Somewhere in the long forgotten future

 

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The Odyssey begins

 Somewhere in the long forgotten future, in a far distant solar system, Killa ambled into the warehouse dressed in flight overalls replete with a large parrot on shoulder, pilot’s cap and a pirate beard. A low-slung gun completed the outfit. This planet was on the rough side of the Galaxy, and it is usually better to look dangerous than seem an easy victim.

  I could spend several pages describing the warehouse. Hey, you've seen one you've seen them all, a big box of a building with office and counters in front of stacks containing the merchandise. 

  Unfortunately today, Killa's welcome was somewhat less than cordial, instead of exchanging the usual banter. “What the hell do you want? Your credit is non-existent, so if you don’t have cash plus what you owe; do us all a favour and buzz off,” Roxz grumbled.

“Now Roxz, is that the way to talk to your best customer?” Killa asked trying to smooth things over. “Here I am ready to do you a big favour, and that’s the way you greet me?

Roxz grumped, “OK, in that case just put the money on the desk, and we can talk. I hope you notice that I am not turning pink from holding my breath.” He couldn’t turn blue because that was his natural colouring.

“I am offering to work the balance down a bit by collecting your outstanding bills from those not able to deliver them.” Killa offered, “I noticed that several of your friendly bill-collectors have retired.”

“Hilarious, I can do without the hospital bills. What makes you think that it would be easy since you are one of the worst offenders?” Roxz replied not bothering to look up from his work.

"Sorry about Toxz but trying to stand over Humph was a silly thing to do,” Killa sympathised, “Then again I suppose Toxz wasn't to know old Humph was a bit irritated with the exciter coil. I am sure that his arm will grow back just nicely, and he should appreciate the flowers.”

“Yes, out of my wife’s garden, which will be on the bill if ever I collect. I suppose you know that Jaya has added your name to the list, now that he has made an example of Sol?” Roxz said as he quirked an eye at Killa. Then he asked, "There is the problem with the Bogan corridor?”

“Yes, the proverbial flash rat is not brave enough to go down there in case they plan to nick his gold tooth,” Killa agreed.

“And hold a BBQ in his honour, so that didn’t answer the question,” Roxz carried on the saying.

 “I can ask Humph to come with me as Jaya the Hut. Scared the hell out of me the time he did that,” Killa returned, “I have a fully operational Fearnaught suit with an additional accumulator; it can absorb anything that can move on a planet.”

“So what about Humph?” Roxz asked curiosity tickled.

“He treats a ray blast as an extra snack. He lives mostly on any radiation with an occasional bite of anything organic together with some dirty water. As he excretes fresh air and water, it is like having a free air plant on board,” Killa said.

“Bully for you. Does that suit have one of those Firebrand fields that blows-up the beam emitter and the target as well? I don’t want that happening in my town,” Roxz focused both eyes on Killa.

“If someone fires a beam that big at you; the hole that it bores goes through at least 3 metres of something like bedrock, would make it moot for the target surrounds. If the gun blows up as well just too bad,” Killa said, “However once the story goes around about me wearing one, no one should be crazy enough to test the theory. A small gun just takes the hand-off clean, doesn't even need dressing.”

“So if they just pile on and smoother you?” Roxz asked.

“Well as Humph is a being of many parts. He can either come as a dozen Imperial troopers or perhaps create some real excitement he could be one Allosaurus,” Killa was enjoying the reactions as Roxz just about choked on that idea, an Allosaurus is a couple of tonnes of talons, teeth and bad attitude. “Humph has a drawer full of trooper carbines and can form the armour with a thought.”

“Ha! As I said, put the money on the table, and you will make me a believer; the how I could care less.” Roxz was becoming irritated ready to give Killa the boot but relented. “OK, here are a couple of names as a start and a deposit card.”

 Roxz shoved over a list with authorization to collect. Taking that as a farewell, Killa returned to his ship with no need to brief Humph as he was the parrot on his shoulder. They decided that rather than cause a panic; a troop of Imperial soldiers would be the go, with the Fearnaught suit tricked up to look like one of Adept Vater’s spare suits. As no-one in their right mind would tangle with that team; an empty corridor was soon opened through the Bogan area. The Bogan Corridor is infamous for neglect and rundown appearance, a haven for the local unemployed and those who would prefer to hide from authority.

 The route taken was between derelict buildings held up by improvised hovels assembled from scrounged building materials; most people likened the Bogan area to a rat nest, which would be a flattering description.The progress was almost incident free. One idiot decided to test the suit with a handgun; there was a resultant flash and boom as the gun blew up. This event demonstrated that ‘yes that is what the Firebrand field does’ and was no rumour. One wonders about the mentality of taking a pot shot at Adept Vater as he would convert the area to the Great Bogan Desert.

 Without further excitement, the team traversed the Bogan corridor, and the party emerged into relatively open suburban and manufacturing area. This area was fenced to keep the rabble away from the politer society of the harbour town; as the team entered the market area. Ahead, there was an array of shops and wholesale supply businesses. The troop marched into the first store and presented the bill to the stunned proprietor after removing the visor so that he could be recognised.

“Hi, Killa Mike Cox here to pick up the bill for Roxz,” Mike informed him.

“What’s this?” he asked after he recovered, “Where is Toxz, he hasn't been for months?”

“He had an accident. So out of the kindness of my heart, I am doing the task to help you settle accounts,” Killa explained, “Roxz would appreciate you completing the transaction so that he can continue providing the goods that you require.”

“Yes of course. And could you pass on a list of a few things that we are short of?” The shopkeeper asked scribbling a list and adding the required credits onto the card, 'They keep cutting the phone lines through Bogan territory.'

“That would be my pleasure to do business with you,” Killa responded gathering up the card and shopping list before leaving with a wave.

 So the tour became an anti-climax as they went to each on the list and without further argument collected all the outstanding amounts. There was the usual number of shadows hastily ducking for cover as the troop clattered through the narrow alleyways to return to the city. Entering Roxz’s warehouse the funds were placed on the table to Roxz’s delight though he worked hard at hiding it.

“I had some grumbles from my customers, but I suppose they could have come themselves and saved the hassle,” Roxz said not smiling in case his face would crack, conceding, “Well I believe I can make a slight adjustment to your bill.”

“Big of you, I am sure,” Killa returned.

“Very liberal of me indeed,” Roxz stated, “Now to settle the rest and perhaps put your ledger in the black. I need someone to pick up an item from Grnatz and bring it back. I will provide enough fuel for the trip, but no more.”

“Grnatz, interesting place. I've heard most people avoid that sector like the plague,” Killa mused, “The merchant route is through Jaya’s sector and several cordons of Imperials; sounds easy.”

“Think about it otherwise, you will have white whiskers before you leave here,” Roxz added seeing that Killa was interested, “With Sol tied up at the moment, no one else is desperate enough.”

“’Desperadoes’ that is what they call us, I will get back to you shortly,” Killa decided.

“You aren’t going anywhere soon unless I say so,” Roxz said just to rub in the patent fact.

 The pair then returned to the ship. Killa settled down comfortably and began planning the trip with Humph, “Well what do you reckon, worth a go?”

 “Seems possible, we can do a circle the worst of the obstacles,” Humph considered, “If we can coax Roxz into a little extra fuel we should miss any risk of fighting. He doesn't need to know that our ship still has the best range if not quite the fastest.”

 “OK, I suppose. As you often say tedious gives time to contemplate 'the whichness of the why',” Killa said a little tongue in cheek as Humph, while the adventurer of his people, still had the caution of a long-lived race.

  On the other hand, Killa had his tail feathers burnt a couple of times. Then needing rescue by solid old Humph; just the sort of thing that breeds caution in the young if they live long enough to learn from the misadventure.

  Humph brought up the holographic map of the galaxy displaying the sectors that had to be traversed to arrive at Grnatz.

  Using the controls, Humph ran a probable path from the present position to the destination. “This line is the most direct, however at these points, there are Imperial custom stations and ships; and at this point adjacent to Tatooine is our old mate Jaya and his crowd,” As he spoke and manipulated, colour patches and icons appeared highlighting the choke points. This map now resulted in several blockages across the commerce route.

 “Using the smuggler's route puts us through Imperial blockades and pirate zones,” Humph pointed at these and added to the display, “So if we use this line adding about 40% to the distance we should avoid the nasties.” The path now weaved around the coloured zones and passed through a couple of nebulae. “The nebulae slow us, and with the extra distance the fuel for the return journey should be about 100 tonnes, so if we ask for 150 tonnes, which is what a standard freighter would require for the direct run, Roxz should be happy with that.”

 Mike calculated and suggested, “If we load some freight to Grnatz and perhaps intermediate stops we can pick up a little spending money and also give a cover story for our primary quest. Allowing for inspections, acceleration and deceleration the round trip would take 80 days in a standard freighter, still going the long way we should do the round trip in less than 40 days.”

 “That should satisfy Roxz though he doesn't have to know the details,” Humph concurred.

  So with this in mind, Killa transferred the data onto a stick to present to Roxz and assembling his gear wandered back to the warehouse.

 “Here you go, old fellow,” Killa said as he placed the stick on Roxz’s desk.

  Roxz grunted and loaded the stick onto his computer. After reading the information, Roxz asked, “Not leaving yourself short are you?”

 “With a bit of coasting, no dramas. I even added a smidgeon if we have to duck and weave,” Killa breezily replied.

  “OK then, I will organise some extra freight to take to Grnatz. Though not much as it is painful to transact business with those bandits,” Roxz added, “Likely they will try to pay in freight back to here. If you make a couple of credits, good luck, you’ll need plenty. I notice that the route you are taking is not in the data?”

 “The walls may have ears, shouldn't give all our secrets away,” Killa responded.

 “Sound thinking,” Roxz agreed then demanded, “So what are you leaving behind to guarantee your return?”

 “What don’t trust us? I’ll have to ask Humph,” Killa said faking a shocked look then listened to Humph the parrot then reporting, “He has about 40 tonnes of various panels and equipment he could put in storage. It has to be secure, as some might be considered valuable.”

 “I have a quarantine warehouse, and I can put plague stickers on it,” Roxz suggested wryly, “I expect to have loaded the freight and fuel in a day or two after we store your stuff.”

  Consulting the data, “So if the traders need to send up to 24 containers you can handle that,” Roxz commented putting his merchant hat on and then waving Killa away after he nodded.

  On the way back to the ship, Humph complained, “That hostage demand is annoying; I don’t want to lose any of my good stuff.”

  “As long as it looks like junk to most people, it should be safe,” Killa said. This banter was ongoing between the two old friends as Killa thought it was junk that Humph recycled into hull panels and power equipment of dubious reliability.

  So loading a container with several completed panels, a couple of sub-light engines together with one ion cannon ready for restoration for use. Humph probably intended to install at the next refit. Humphs delivered the filled container to Roxz’s warehouse with an injunction to store safely. Anyone would think that Humph was leaving his first born son with hyenas, if Killa hadn't been necessary as a crew, Humph would prefer him as the hostage.

  “Don’t fret old fella; your babies will back to you in no time at all,” Killa said in mock sympathy, then grinned when he received a hurt look.

 Still, their usual routine of freebooting freight and exploration was on hold until they repaired the credit imbalance. Needs must when your creditors called the tune.

 Years before Humph had tempted Mike away from the farm to explore the Galaxy. As a younger son of a farmer,  he would have had to leave home to seek employment in a city as an apprentice or something similar. So when offered the chance to become a crewman on a spaceship, he jumped at the chance. Since then, Humph had taught him all the tricks of a travelling merchant and pilot.

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On the way to Grnatz

 The appointed time arrived with all the fuel and cargo aboard, so the ship lifted off bound for Grnatz. First heading towards the main route to their destination; the passage to the hyper point took about two days, first accelerating at 50 G dampened to one G internal then cruising to the exit point. This performance is consistent with a standard light freighter behaviour so as not to draw attention from the watchers.

 Humph phased into hyper then warped the path to spiral through the maze necessary to avoid detection by potential belligerents. While Humph's ship the Yella Terra was unique in construction, at this pace the signature of the emissions was consistent with an under three kiloton tramp freighter and usually considered too small to be worth tracking or reporting. He was careful not to engage full power near technically advanced planets as that would give a signature consistent with a 10-kiloton military vessel or a 50-kiloton capacity freighter, either of which would attract unwelcome interest. 

  The route that Humph programmed starting at Kessel sector with the first navigation check at Akrit’tar then to Voathkace, a longer loop to Sneeth before committing to an outside galaxy grand circle over the central core, this being the crucial leg as there were few stars and no rescue if a critical system were to fail. Re-entering the galactic spiral at Aduran with the last official datum point at Esfandica. Then consulting a smuggler’s Rutter, which gave directions, such as so many parsecs in one leg to a red dwarf than the next point a different direction for a set distance. When they emerged into natural space, it was in the outer reaches of a star system with the spectrographic datum of Grnatz’s sun.

  As the Yella Terra approached at sub-light speed; a motley group of half a dozen fighters swarmed from the orbit of the planet. A radio challenge to the transponder triggered the code response together with the official identification of the ship, its’ cargo and home port. This data satisfied the leader and a direction to land at the commercial port for customs examination and introduction to the required merchants.

 “What do you reckon, could have handled them no dramas?” Killa grumbled not liking the aggressive manner.

 “Unnecessary, they are just paranoid; most fringe dwellers are leery of visitors being potential Imperial survey teams,” Humph patiently explained, “A violent response would hardly augur well for trade, which of course that is why we are here.”

  The landing was uneventful, once parked and cooled down a vehicle arrived with a team consisting of a customs officer with attendant guards who requested entry; these were all of Roxz’ race. This fact made Killa wonder about the ‘bandit’ tag Roxz had assigned them. Killa went out to meet them accompanied by Humph in the giant teddy bear mode to keep the meeting business-like and friendly. Killa passed over the manifest which gave the details of the contents. To be truthful as much as was normally visible and they wished known. Humph downloaded this list to the officer’s computer for analysis, and the official then indicated that he required a visual confirmation.

 “Come aboard and look all you want,” Killa said.

 “Yes,” He responded curtly, intending to do so whether invited or not, following Killa up the ramp and then consulting the schematics on his computer started to wander through the ship occasionally indicating hatches and doors to be opened. Of course, all the secret areas Humph had marked including Humph's room as radioactive, the access doors were invisible and not marked on the schematics. As they seemed to be the only active ship in port, he was in no hurry so after a long time declared satisfaction and printed off a clearance to trade. There was a list of do's and don’t on the document together with the areas where the crew could wander; usefully included a map describing the trade centre and location of the warehouses. They had maps of the merchants to be visited; comparing the two showed there was little difference, and none required deviation from the permitted area.

  The area was recognisable for its function, the variation being the size and apparent age. Most areas within intergalactic space the only real differences were local kingdoms trying to make a point of difference with monumental buildings, read spend a lot of someone else’s money to show how special. If you were to close your eyes at most ports as you leave and then open them at the destination, it seems you haven’t gone anywhere.

  With manifest in hand, the duo headed for the first on the list, this being El Ala Loxz confirming that this was where Roxz and his crowd had originated, therefore explaining the ability to organise these transactions two-thirds across the galaxy into the unknown reaches. Killa placed the manifest on the receptionist’s desk and announced their origin; the receptionist conveyed this information via intercom, and a blue gentleman came out of the door marked El Ala Loxz to greet them.

  “Good day; you have a consignment from good old Roxz; welcome, welcome,” Loxz greeted them, sporting the same blue skin as those as mentioned earlier. Apparently fluent in basic there was no difficulty in understanding the purpose of the visit.

 “Thank you; I am Killa Mike Cox and my friend Humph; we have some goods on consignment and expect a package to return to Roxz,” Killa responded.

 “Excellent, the delivery will be welcome on the planet. You understand that the exact contents of the return freight won’t be on your manifest,” Loxz explained.

 “Only your guarantee that it won’t explode on us; otherwise what we don’t know won’t lose us any sleep,” Killa returned.

 “It would be less bother to zap you as you emerged from hyper, so I have no problem declaring it safe to carry. I would even send my child to visit my uncle,” Loxz offered with a smile.

“I may take you up on that, would even be an additional cover for the return trip,” Killa answered, “We have a couple of more warehouses to arrange delivery of their goods. Just let us know when the loading commences; are your dock men familiar with standard containers?”

“Gal standard are they? No problems then; far better than hand unloading and reloading as most of the light freighters require,” Loxz smiled again; obviously it wasn’t a racial trait that Roxz presented, “Then it should require only a couple of hours to do the turnaround.”

“Take your time. After nearly a thousand hours in space a little rest on solid ground would be useful,” Killa suggested.

  “Unfortunately, we can't permit sightseeing outside of the port precincts, you understand?” Loxz advised soberly, “Not that you are unwelcome however they are the rules at the moment.”

  “I can live with that; we are within a couple of parsecs from a couple of places where our welcome is assured,” Killa agreed.

“Oh, where would be?” Loxz asked.

  Killa laughed and tapped his nose, “Me to know and you to guess, ‘Even Stevens’,” Then laughed again at Loxz’ blank look. “Would you tell anyone about your favourite fishing hole?” Killa asked rhetorically, then to remain in character, added, “Perhaps tails may get stepped on.”

“Just checking on potential customers; so business first, you can organise your other merchants or perhaps I can do it for you?” Loxz returned calmly.

 “Thanks but I have my instructions, I'll be seeing you,” Killa said, “Farewell, I may make this a regular port of call if all goes smoothly.”

 “Then it would be my pleasure to ensure that is so until then take care,” Loxz responded politely.

 Humph and Killa visited the other merchants on the list and informed them that their goods were available to be picked up at the ship. As each was in a sealed container, the crew were ignorant as to precise contents. Killa had determined that each was harmless to the ship, this being confirmed by analysis of the container atmosphere via sampling ports.

 After organising the loading task, the pair decided to have a walk through the market area acquiring the feel of the planet and the inhabitants. Like many areas, there was a cross section of most of the spacefaring races wandering around sightseeing and conducting business.

  Humph had noticed that there was an observer following their progress from place to place. This man had followed them in and occupied an adjacent table when Killa dropped into a restaurant for a break; being familiar with Roxz’ race he already knew that Oxzen food and beverages while exotic were harmless in moderation.

  Killa tried to strike up a conversation, but the tail pretended not to understand galbasic, just gave shrugs and blank looks. Nevertheless still maintained the close observation and listened when Killa talked with anyone.

  So Killa said to Humph in English, “Well as the business is done, might as well head back to the ship for desert.” At this, the observer left the restaurant and moved towards the vessel to avoid following too prominently, then loitering at a merchant’s stall to wait for his subjects.

  “That’s interesting; seems to understand some things,” Killa whispered in Murri (Queensland indigenous language.) The baffled look on the observer's face hinted that while he was an expert lip reader, he hadn’t understood what Killa had said.

  “Yes, it seems that the local authorities are after information, rarely a good sign.” Humph said not needing to move his lips, “We had better keep the conversation to business in galbasic, or they may arrest us to find out what we are hiding.”

  Slipping back to Galbasic, Killa agreed, “Yes with business finished; I need to put my feet up and do the books.” So saying the walk back was uneventful and they arrived at the ship and boarded without any trouble.

  The next morning the labour gangs came to unload the cargo, with another series of teams to load the new cargo, before each was loaded Killa determined that each was safe and didn’t contain any contraband. “Well if we didn’t find anything neither will any official snoops,” Killa declared. The team completed their business; they decided to book the departure for the morning.  Later that evening Loxz arrived accompanied by a young person, "This is Algertz, my child, who is keen to see Uncle Roxz and perhaps do some hands on training in his warehouse.”

  “You understand that we will be traversing wild space and perhaps have to dodge some official snoops,” Killa warned not overly keen to be saddled with a child.

 “Wow sounds fun, please allow me to come,” Algertz exclaimed not at all discouraged.

 “Up to Humph, he is the boss,” Killa said to shift the blame and responsibility.

  “I suppose I can accommodate a passenger as long as we have documents giving clearance for the trip,” Humph said, surprising the pair with his tiny voice which didn’t match his size.

  "That would be why you remained silent, I had heard that Droman were soft spoken but have never met one,” Loxz said, “Now Algertz; be prepared that this entity may converse with you from an assortment of bodies and sizes; right Mr Humph?”

 “True, apparently you are familiar with my people,” Humph replied.

 “Indeed, they helped my grandfather Algextz, when he had a crash landing on your planet,” Loxz stated glancing at the ship.

  "This is the ship I built from that wreck using the information that Algextz was kind enough to leave behind,” Humph admitted.

 “If I had known, your welcome would have been much friendlier. No matter on your next visit perhaps we can make amends,” Loxz smiled broadly. Then shook Humph's hand while turning to Algertz added, “Remember the stories that I told you when a small child, this man is the rescuer of grandfather and his crew.”

 At that revelation, the youth looked at Humph with wonderment written all over the face.

 “That settled, please be here first thing in the morning with your luggage and Killa will set you up in your cabin then teach you all that you will need to know as a supernumerary crew member,” Humph decided.

 “Perhaps if I explained that while good for business the primary purpose of this task is to transport my child to Kessel Sector,” Loxz said.

 “I suspected as much, why not use your ships  since your people have travelled far and wide?” Humph asked.

 “Unfortunately, our ships are attracting too much attention at the moment. The authorities found a couple of the ships with shall we say, unauthorised cargo. We are now trying to establish our honest merchant status again,” Loxz explained, “In recent times the authorities have accorded Oxzen the reputation of Tinkers. As a result, all our ships are almost torn down to the last nut and bolt which takes a considerable chunk out of the profits let alone the delay in delivery of perishables.”

 “Solo and I at times have run into that problem, meaning it is better to avoid scrutiny to expedite delivery,” Humph admitted, “It only takes a rumour to attract the bright light of officialdom and slow things down. We operate on the principle that ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’ permits the wheels of commerce to rotate.”

“Indeed, well then we should be doing business in the future, perhaps next time you visit your fishing hole?” Loxz said tapping his nose to show he now knew the meaning. So with passenger settled in the Yella Terra lifted off and ascended through the atmosphere with only the starfighters waiting to give an escort to the hyper jump point. Humph programmed a short jump before re-plotting the direction towards Killa’s sun. It was likely any following vessel would overshoot and lose the trace of the new direction.

 Humphs parked the Yella Terra at his base on the Moon, as he had some maintenance to do. "Why you young ones enjoy the fresh air while I fiddle with the ship?" Humph asked.

"Sounds better than watching the paint dry here," Killa said.

 Algertz and Killa boarded the shuttle then spiralled down to the sea and crept up the creek valley to the national park adjacent to the farm. Using a car which was left parked at Humph's old haunt, they drove down to the farmhouse where Killa’s family lived. After reacquainting with the family and introducing Algertz then a grand tour was organised around the farm, the kids were delighted and impressing his parents despite them being aware of the job that young Mike was now doing. The novelty of having a real blue alien certainly was entertainment for the family; facilitating the conversation was Algertz learning English while in transit. However, they couldn't organise any off-farm tours because of the distinct difference.

  Bidding farewell to his family and re-joining the ship, he found that Humph had programmed the return journey into the computer; swinging the counter arc to bypass the Huy area to rim-ward.

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And back Again

 On the second emergence into 'Known Space', the bells rang to warn of challenge emissions coming from fighters zeroing in on the pulse generated by the re-entry from hyperspace. “Ah someone is waiting, use minimal deceleration, then we talk to them and convince them that we are harmless voyagers,” Humph suggested.

 The radio crackled into life with a data pulse from the lead fighter, “Identify ship and destination.”

  Humph transmitted back, “SW15724 Solterra ship Constant Moon, bound for Kessel sector.” One of Humph's alias used when on slightly less than legitimate freight duties.

 “Standby for inspection of cargo, slow to Ten percent for boarding,” The interceptor ordered.

  Off Radio Killa asked, “Give them the flick and shoot-through? I have the jump point lined up.”

 “They would be straight onto Sub-ether radio and have a tractor beam waiting to nail us,” Humph said.

 Then over the radio, “Will comply, decelerating, we have delicate cargo aboard.” 

  An aside to Algertz, Killa bragged, “We can run rings around them but let’s not let the cat out of the bag; strap down in case things get nasty.”

  Humph pointed at the co-pilot's chair for Algertz then ambled off to his room to meld with the amoeboid mass where he could control all the armament and ship movements. His reaction times being computer fast in this mode.

 Then via intercom, “The sensors detect one Sun Destroyer, three corvettes, several ancillaries and six wings of fighters covering entry and exit points so let’s just talk our way through; probably an anti-smuggler blockade.”

 “Our documents should be Okay, and we have no contraband that we could detect, so this shouldn’t be a drama,” Killa agreed.

  Several transmissions were guiding the ship to rendezvous with the shuttle with demands to decelerate at a higher rate. The latter was fended off citing cargo and class of freighter. The registration quoted was the original ID of Humph's ship and was consistent with the performance exhibited.

 “Unless the sun destroyer throws a tractor beam on us we can blast out of here before they can blink. The downside being our cover is blown, and we will have to take a convoluted route to Kessel,” Killa explained to the youth, “And that could run us a bit low on fuel.”

  With no further drama, the shuttle matched velocity came alongside, and a space-suited team entered the airlock. Accompanied by several armed storm troopers, the officer demanded the documentation. This information was handed over and downloaded onto his computer. “From Solterra where is that? There is no listing at those coordinates.”

  “Our planet is only just starting to explore, so I have an Oxzen navigator to guide this ship,” Killa informed him.

  “Documents seem in order, escort me to the freight holds for examinations,” The official stated, “I will leave a couple of troopers to keep the Oxzen from being lonely.” The official was escorted to the holds and shown the cargo; a technician using sniffer probes determined that the contents matched the manifest.

  “You are permitted to proceed; I suggest that you adhere to established trade routes where customs officers can do this job,” The officer was apparently disappointed that the ship was legitimate, “As soon as my shuttle is away, you may depart.” Just as the boarding party was leaving his radio crackled, He said, “Message received, we are to detain the Oxzen for interrogation.” Barely had he spoken when all the boarding party collapsed as Humph's sleep rays hit them.

  Several of Humph's stevedore avatars leapt from hidden hatches, bundled the Imperial team through the air lock and into their shuttle as the Yella Terra spun on its axis and commenced acceleration towards the hyper point that they had entered from, “Strap in, we are going for it.”

  The Terra had been braking, using the forward thrusters so to complete this task and to accelerate back to the entry point the ship had to be re-orientated. For those vessels matching pace or converging to intercept it would seem that the ship had reversed direction and accelerated back towards the entry point.

  As Humph's avatars scrambled back into his merge, the sounds of the main turrets could be heard whining into position. Killa took the opportunity to dive into the pilot’s seat and strap down, having first ensured that Algertz had done so. As the last belt clicked into place, G capsules wrapped around each chair, and then Killa was driven back into the padding as Humphs cut in the primary drive and started erratic manoeuvres to throw the tie fighters aim off. Several thrums through the ship frame denoted that the same number of the fighter pilots had better learn to walk as their side vanes were blasted off. Humph being a peace loving soul had developed the skill at disabling rather than destroying opponents. All shields up including the pulsing red one warning the use of a ‘Firebrand’ shield.

                                                  .    .    .

  Standing on the bridge of the Sun Destroyer Reynar, Commodore Bengo Rham was complacently watching the processing of the peculiar freighter, when his adjutant commented that the Oxzen was likely the one requested by headquarters.

 “Signal the lieutenant to detain the Oxzen.”

 “Aye, sir,” The adjutant affirmed and spoke into his microphone.

  Barely had he spoken when the peaceful scene changed into a kaleidoscope of beams, rocket flare and flying debris as the scene changed abruptly from serene to chaos with the subject now surrounded by a pulsing red field.

  “Blow his tail off Commander,” Rham ordered the captain of the corvette Doom Bringer. Then Rham watched in dismay as the Doom Bringer's cannon erupted in a flare as the beam touched the target; with an accompanying energy bubble expanding from the freighter. Several fighters had also fired, with them blowing up as a result.

  “What the hell was that?” Rham asked aghast.

  The intelligence officer suggested, “A red field is supposed to indicate a kinetic absorption shield, shooting at it may destroy both vessels. Captains often ignore this or test it with a small laser, as some pirates use the red pulse as a bluff.”

  “Deploy missiles,” Then watched as the target now resembled a hedgehog as it zapped every missile before it approached; simultaneously the target’s tail erupted into a full military thrust as it reversed orientation and outstripped the pursuing Tie Fighters and disappeared into hyperspace back the way it came in a very unfreighter like manner. “Just what sort of ship is that? Capture desirable to investigate operating systems.”

  “Nothing in our records, the transponder was for a small obsolete freighter originating on Grnatz. Should be two K tonne with two sublight drives of moderate thrust. That one now shows the signature of a Corvette with three big drives, two smaller drives, at least, four ion cannon and eight lasers all in action simultaneously,” The I.O reported, “Data now is consistent with a Corvette.”

                                             .         .         .      

  Back at the Yella Terra; Killa was watching the scene unfold on the screen.

One Corvette didn’t believe the red field and fired a laser cannon at the Yella, and the ship’s accumulators whined as the Firebrand shield absorbed the energy with the offending Corvette's gun disappeared in a searing flash. Humph immediately bled the excess energy off lighting the firmament with coruscating effect. A couple of Tie Fighters didn’t get the message and joined their comrade.

 “Oh dear, I don’t think we will be getting that invitation to the next Governor’s ball,” Humph said over the intercom.

  The remaining Tie Fighters and Corvettes fired missiles which Humph picked off with his laser cannon. All the while accelerating to hyper jump speed, once at critical distance Humph engaged hyperdrive, and the pursuing force disappeared off the screen.

 “Solo would be impressed, thanks, Humph,” Killa commented and asked his passenger, "Okay there young fellow?

 “Yes, most exciting, does that happen often?” Algertz asked amazed.

 “That was once enough; we can’t use that ID again as all the Imperials will be hot on our trail,” Humph commented as he rejoined them in the cockpit, “It seems they are interested in you?”

  “Perhaps my father left a couple of things out, he is the king of Oxz Sector as well as a head merchant, and being his first born, I am next in line. The Empire is becoming interested in our sector; so Father is worried that I may be a target for hostage taking,” Algertz explained.

  “I remember now, the crew and rescue team held your Great Grandfather in great esteem, I had wondered why they were so generous with the spaceship data,” Humph mused.

  “Yes, you are considered a hero for the whole sector. I never expected actually to meet you,” Algertz marvelled.

  “We have a minor problem in that our data ID gave our real destination. We will have to sneak in,” Humph said pensively, “Can’t deviate too much as that last effort somewhat depleted the fuel reserves. It is  going to take a bit longer as we have to coast when in sub-light between jumps.”

  Killa asked, “One thing has been puzzling me, don’t all your people have an x sound in their name.”

  “Just the boys,” Algertz replied with a cheeky grin.

  “Oh, we have a princess among us?” Killa said as he looked askance at her, “Don’t think it will get you out of washing the dishes.”

  “Ha, it didn’t at home either,” She replied with a challenging grin.

  “Her status is why I took such drastic action; I intercepted the radio call which described her fully,” Humph explained, “Otherwise I would have been a little more discrete. Mind you, the firing on us would have been counter productive for hostage taking.”

  “Perhaps throwing their men out the door irritated them and they went into Standard Operating Procedure,” Killa suggested.

 “They were safe enough with the shuttle still connected,” Humph said, “Still until the missiles, we were safe enough as when the shields go down on a regular freighter, they are expected to surrender. They calibrated the laser shot for a standard freighter’s screen whereas ours are full military capital ship standard.”

                                                .      .       .

 Back at the Reynar, Rham ordered fuming, “Two Corvettes to shadow on the line for Kessel, not to engage. Support group to salvage survivors and repair Doom Bringer, inspection team data to my desk. Navigate the quickest route to Kessel sector for the task force, carry on.”

 Rham returned to his cabin and consulted the data feeds; the early pictures showed a peculiar round build which reminded him of something. ‘Ah, the only thing like that were those Droman buildings and seagoing ships, a mob of pack-rats but low tech and planet bound.’

 The data from the inspection team arrived, and the team described the occupants as AAAAA Humanoid male listed as pilot Mike Cox of Solterra and AAABA Humanoid listed as supernumerary Algertz of Grnatz. Cargo listed and verified as high-value perishable bulk and equipment, that is consistent with the load carried on small freighters.

                                                    .       .        .

The Yella sped through hyperspace dropping out at points occasionally to re-orientate for the next leg; emerging outside the Fwillsving system about a week later than originally planned. As the ship started the inward run, Humph announced two significant hyper pulses as military grade capital ships re-entered normal space from the direction of the Huy sector.

“Good timing, an hour earlier they could have spotted us,” He announced, “I propose we do our deceleration on the far side of the gas giant then land on Fwillsving’s moon far side. We then use the shuttle to land at the spaceport and find Roxz.”

 By the time the Yella had rendezvoused with the moon, further hyper pulses had heralded the balance of the Imperial task force inbound. “Time to go now before they have the blockade formed,” Humph declared, “They will be looking for two humans, one blue and one white, I believe disguise is warranted.”

“How about Wookys, no one in their right mind mucks around with them,” Killa suggested.

 “Where would you get the disguises there is nothing on the manifest or storage?” Algertz asked.

 “Perhaps you could demonstrate Humph?” Killa suggested.

 “Good as done,” Humph said as he thinned down with the excess splitting into two mounds of gel. Replacing the teddy bear was Chawbaya’s twin; one of the gel portions flowed onto the pilot’s chair and formed a blob.

  Killa strolled over picked this up and held the blob over his head, as he did the gel now flowed over him covering from head to foot then the fur lengthened into hair all over. Killa now was a Wooky, if somewhat shorter and lighter than Humph's effort. “I have done this before, and with my relatively high voice, I can be a girl Wooky as I can speak the language at the same pitch as a female. Your turn, you will look like a Wooky teenager, perhaps a shy one who doesn't talk much, as there isn't enough time to train you,” Killa explained.

“Yes, if there is no problem breathing and I don’t like the idea of covering my eyes,” Algertz considered. But copying Killa went through the covering process.

“Good I can still see,” She exclaimed.

 “Shy, remember,” Killa advised, and laughed as Algertz made a zipper motion to her lips, then added wryly, “If we had been fully briefed on your status and the likelihood of being searched for, this trick would have saved the drama.”

“Huugughhg uuhghhgh aaaahnr,” Killa said, “Now we load up with Wooky weapons and backpacks. Even kids go armed in Wooky polite society.”

“Huuguughhg uughghhgh aaaaahnr,” Humph corrected.

Killa laughed and suggested, “A bit high pitched for Chawbaya.” Killa added. “You will need an audiovoder.”

Humph did so picking up the required bows and a blaster each while adding the audiovoder on a neck collar.

“Raaaaahhgh huurh uughghhgh wrrhwrwwhw,” Humph said, sounding a dead ringer of Chawbaya.

 They moved to the shuttle deck and manned the controls. The shuttle was eased out, and the doors swung shut behind, the bulk of Humph being still in control of the Yella Terra.

  Humph guided the shuttle to skim around the moon surface until they reached the settlement’s spaceport on the moon; then engaging system drive Killa traversed from the moon orbit and entered the atmosphere of Fwillsving. Arriving at the spaceport, Killa landed the shuttle in a parking bay; then the trio wandered off to the customs office and handed over their data sticks for examination. Wookys are not expected to be able to pronounce Basic; however, written answers were deemed acceptable. The customs cleared the shuttle; then the trio proceeded towards Roxz office first using the computer to announce the imminent arrival of 3 Wookys with a package.

  As they entered Roxz walked over and greeted them politely as one should with Wookys, “Welcome gentle souls, how may my lowly establishment assist you.”

 “Hi Uncle Roxz it’s me Algertz,” She announced in a whisper.

 “Well, I‘ll be a monkey’s uncle, where have you been?” Roxz exclaimed loudly.

  His office staff nearly died of fright and made ready to bolt for safer spots; that is one thing you just don’t say to Wookys.

  Using the tablet Killa wrote: - We had better keep our fur on, Imperials are about to flood the place with troopers, so we have to stay in character, “Ruh gwyaaaag,” Killa announcing that they were friends.

  Roxz tapped his ear then nodded, “You are indeed with friends, fair Wookys. What cargo would you have me receive?”

  Killa wrote: - ship hidden, have a list of consignments. Have to wait for the Imperials to leave. Our documents describe us as Kiltatha, Dewchit and Rorykam merchants, (Pointing at each in turn as he wrote the names.)

 Sorry had run in with them, they are not very happy and are looking for the package.

 Expect trouble for yourself if your relationship was known.

 Reading this Roxz commented wryly, “It is so wonderful that you bring exciting times. I suppose you need somewhere to stay? There is my summer residence in the hills that should keep you comfortable and has plenty of trees to make you feel at home.”

 Killa cleared the previous and added: - How kind of you, difficult to get there?

 'It is easy if you know the way,' Roxz answered, 'I will take you there myself, perhaps my wife should come and act as host.'

 Killa wrote: - Should cover all eventualities. Can the staff handle the shop while you are away?

 'If they want to keep their jobs they will,”

'Roxz glared at the hapless sales team.  

 

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Fwelsving in Interesting Times

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A new crew member

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New friends In Strange Places

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Old Enemy New Friend

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Mike's World Is turned Upside Down

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The Crew Grows

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A Friend In Need

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Zombie hunting.

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~

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