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Rimwalker

By Daniel Thomas Andrew Daly All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Scifi

Chapter 1

Chronicles of the Children of Destiny

“Rimwalker”

By Daniel Thomas Andrew Daly

http://noahidebooks.angelfire.com 

PART ONE ‘The Sigmorius Crown’ 

1 The dust fell to the floor as the tired and hungry adventurer whacked his boots, carefully mind you, so as not to damage the valued assets too much, against the side of his spacecraft, the Wolfklaw.  Rimwalker was pleased; very pleased.  He could count the Arcturian credits already, and visualised, amongst other riches, his time in the arms of the tender, blue skinned Arcturian beauties that were always ever so lavish in their adorations.  He patted his satchel which was hanging from his shoulder, ever so careful with his prize.  For millennia the Arcturian council had posted rewards for the return of their beloved Sigmorius crown, the most revered of the ancient royal jewels of the united kingdoms of Arcturia.  And Rimwalker had tracked it down, strangely enough of all places which were his usual haunt, right out on the edge of the galactic rim.  Draxian piracy had looted the crown long ago and, tracing old records and rumours about the crown, he had found information on Telos 17 that the Drax had an old lair on Karnak, a mostly uninhabited desert planet on the edge of the rim.  Rimwalker had spent days surveying the continents of the planet, going over countless mounds of dirt with his scanners, looking for significant manmade structures.  At the northern and southern poles of the planets plant-life existed with a small number of native animal species, but apparently the air was to thin on the planet for any more advanced species to really want to inhabit the place.  Rimwalker had decided that he would scan the desert regions first, before the more complex greenery as there was not too much of that so he would leave it to last. Fortunately, one week into his scans by the galactic calendar he had found a series of obviously manmade structures and had investigated.  It was an abandoned Drax lair alright and searching through the place he found countless worthless coins, far out of date, from various cultures, with not a sign of gold coinage or other precious metal amongst them.  Any other type of currency seemed to have long faded.  But finally, after almost giving up, he looked under an old metal bunk and found a small box containing his desired prize.  For whatever reason the Drax had they had long ago given up on their prize and it was now his to claim. Putting it into his satchel he had climbed out of the ruins and was now dusting off his boots, breathing carefully through his oxygen mask as the air was too thin to breathe this far south from the northern pole. He pressed a button on his wristpad and the doors of the Wolfklaw on the bottom deck opened up.  He came inside, closed the doors and took his prize to the central station deck to look it over. Sitting there he examined pictures he had of the original crown and looked at his copy.  All things seemed correct.  It had the right markings and looked practically identical apart from a little wear and tear.  Yep, he had the crown alright.  The reward would be his. He went to the wall of his command station, opened his safe, and carefully placed his prize inside.  And now straight to Arcturia, a billion Arcturian credits and the sexual pleasures of the most decadent of Arcturian whores.  2 Rimwalker awoke.  Jan Kolby, alias the ‘Rimwalker’ was suddenly awakened by a jolt to the ship.  He looked at the digiclock.  It was still 3 hours to Arcturia and he was sure he would have slept the distance apart from this disturbance.  Getting up quickly he ran to the command deck.  The Wolfklaw’s command deck was a pretty basic affair, not surprising given the age of the ship.  It was one of the early star-solar ships of the human confederation of planets, now over 1500 years old, but still in reasonable shape considering the distances it had travelled.  The Command deck was run mostly by audio programmed computers, who you really only needed to speak commands to.  There were in fact controls at the deck, which Rimwalker was acquainted with and had used occasionally, but most things ran themselves.  Fortunately the confederation had an ample supply of dedicated tech-heads ever so happy to take a look at the ancient ship and tinker with it whenever he was at a suitable port.  At the front of the command deck were 3 main screens, a central one, and 2 smaller ones on either side.  They were standard LCD screens as that was the major technology at the beginning of the confederation being used, and they worked well enough, but he had often thought about putting in some of the more advanced holographons for a better 3D image.  Usually, though, he was too miserly when he gave it serious thought as the LCD generally worked well enough. ‘Computer.  Please identify source of jolt.’  Various lights before him whirred and spun and soon a female voice responded.‘Greetings captain.  The source of the jolt was an unidentified metallic missile.  Sensors read that there is some sort of attachment to the ship currently.’‘Analysis,’ asked Jan.‘A hostile alien boarding or capture seems statistically probable.  Though they may wish you no harm captain.  This sector has little hostile activity in our current databanks and they may be simply cautious.’‘Give us a look then.’The screen came alive and images of a large metal object, perhaps magnetic, with a cable attached was shown.‘Why magnetic?  Are they that primitive not to use gravitational tractor beams?’‘Quite possibly, Captain,’ replied the computer.‘Mmm.  Interesting.  Can you see were that cable goes.’‘Locating endsource of cable, captain,’ responded the computer.Coming onto the screen, the computer enlarging the image, was a small spaceship, about the size of the Wolfklaw, and about as primitive looking.‘Captain,’ began the computer.  ‘This appears to be a primitive tug-ship.  We are being towed to its homebase.’‘We’ll see about that,’ responded Rimwalker.  ‘Computer, prepare the ‘Cub’.  I am going to drop our friends a little visit and let them know this ship is taken.’‘As you wish Captain.’ Coming into the ‘Cub’, the Wolfklaw’s tiny child as it were, Rimwalker brought his phaser and translator.  He wanted to be careful and polite, and sensed he wouldn’t have too much trouble, but caution was needed as well. Getting into the cub he piloted the ship out of the small dock and headed towards his captor.  3 ‘Look, Mr Kolby.  I am sorry, ok.  My scanners were clearly malfunctioning when they detected no life-signs on board your ship.  I had thought it another routine patrol droid we occasionally get out here.  And some of the metals and other material you find on those droids can come in very useful.  Arcturia sends them out this way a lot to monitor things.  We pinch em, ok.  But they know we are here and haven’t complained yet.  I think they feel guilty, really.  They abandoned our colony years back and left us to fend for ourselves, forbidding re-entry to Arcturia.’‘And why is that,’ Rimwalker asked the blueskinned female Arcturian.‘We were in the rebellion against the crown of Arcturia.  We wanted democracy, not monarchy and they exiled us.’‘Yeh, I have heard about that.  Arcturian’s talk about it from time to time.  But, you know, times have changed on Arcturia.  It is practically a democracy these days.  The crown is mostly a figurehead.  Have you thought of going back?’The Arcturian looked at Rimwalker, considering those words.‘Go back.  Now.  No, I mean we couldn’t.  They shamed us, and we have our pride.’ But despite the female’s words, Rimwalker could sense she was considering the issue.‘How many of you are there.  And where do you live.’‘We are on a space-ark just outside of Arcturia minor.  It is a dead planet, and we prefer living on the Ark.  We were exiled here centuries ago.  The droids come in useful for various things.  And like I said, Arcturia feels guilty.  They often place supplies, for no real apparent reason, upon the droid ships.’‘I think you have been forgiven, you know.  Perhaps it really is time to go home.’She looked at him, seemingly now convinced of his words.‘Perhaps you are right.  Perhaps you are right.  I may speak to Landoria and ask her.  There are about 50 of us on the ark, but she is the most respected.  Perhaps she may find what you have to say interesting.’‘Then let us go speak to this Landoria.  I can transport you all if you like.  The Wolfklaw will fit 50 Arcturian’s easily.  It would be my pleasure.’The Arcturian just nodded.‘Well, do you have a name,’ asked Rimwalker.‘Oh, yes.  Chance.  Chance Kibb’star.  An old Arcturian family.’‘I’ll bet.  Well I’ll get back to my ship and set it to follow you.  And it was good to meet you Chance Kibb’star.’‘Yes.  Good to meet you too, Captain Kolby.’  4 Landoria seemed, to Rimwalker, very sophisticated and wise, although he hardly knew her.  Her manner bespoke an upbringing of the higher class of society, which surprised him considering she was likely born on the ark.  But not necessarily.  Arcturian’s had, apparently, unpredictable life-spans and could go on for centuries so the story went.  He decided to query her on the subject as they walked around the upper levels of the ark were the food was made and stored.‘So, Landoria.  Just how old are you?’‘You are inquiring, perhaps, because you sense something within me not like the others, dare I say it?’‘Exactly.  Let me guess, you were in the original rebellion, right?’‘It is as you say.  I was part of the original rebellion on Arcturia against the new monarchy, the only surviving member here on the ark, but I fear any at home would have perished.’‘And your upbringing on Arcturia?’ quizzed Rimwalker.‘Why ask you of such a thing.’‘Because you don’t speak in the mannerisms of a commoner from Arcturia, and I know them a little by now.’‘Mmm,’ nodded Landoria, but seemingly unwilling to answer the question.‘This, Captain Kolby, is the main kitchen.  We prepare most of our meals here.  Most of us take part in the communal meal, but we have a few families who eat together by themselves.’The kitchen was not really anything unusual.  Standard fare for a spacecraft, and very Arcturian looking with its strong sense of symmetry.‘Yeh, it’s a great kitchen,’ replied Jan, not really interested in how they prepared their meals.  ‘So, thanks for the tour and everything, but really, if you are not going to take me up on my offer, I would like to head off.’Chance spoke up.  ‘Perhaps you could stay a few hours.  Sleep over.  It may give us time to consider your offer.  It is quite sudden, you know.’‘Chance speaks wisely,’ stated Landoria bluntly.  ‘Yes, Captain Kolby, I am from the upper class of Arcturian society.  I was brought up in the nobility, which is how I grew to disdain its lavish hypocrisy,’ stated Landoria, finally responding to Jan’s question.‘Figures.  But you know what they say about biting the hand that feeds you.’‘An interesting analogy,’ responded Landoria.  ‘Human I take it?’‘100% sweetheart.  Look, alright.  If you want me to stay a day or so, I guess I can manage it.  But don’t keep me here too long.  There are a billion credits waiting for me on Arcturia, and the arms of their finest harlots beckon.’‘And you seemed like such an intelligent human,’ said Landoria, disdaining his promiscuity.‘Hey, lady.  Not all of us are born with divine scruples.  I know you Arcturian’s are still hung up on religion, but humanity got over most of our fables years ago.’‘From what I knew of humanity, many of you still confess faith in the higher one.’‘Hell, luv.  I think I even believe in God when I am shagging a lady.  Only God could make them so fine, you know.  But religion is dead, sweetheart.  ‘Only the Pope in Rome really keeps the faith.’‘Rome?’ questioned Landoria.  ‘Where is Rome?’‘A city on Earth.  Home planet for us humans.  I even visited it once.’‘And who is this Pope you speak of?’‘Ahh, fucking hell.  I hate religious discussions.  You know, the Pope.  Head of the Church.  Or the Catholic thing, I think.  The details are fuzzy.  Dad mentioned it a bit.’‘And what does this church believe?’‘Jesus fucking Christ sweetheart.  The son of the Almighty.’‘Fascinating.  You must speak more of this.’‘You know what I know.  Anyway, you were saying you had some place for me to sleep.’‘Yes, I was forgetting.  Chance, can you show Captain Kolby to one of the vacant domiciles.  And see to any needs he has.’‘Of course, Landoria.’‘Captain Kolby, if you will follow me?’ said Chance, who started out of the kitchen, Jan slowly following her, giving Landoria a final look over.  5 The domicile was about all the Rimwalker expected.  Not overly large, but not tiny either.  Adequate enough.  The bunk looked strong enough and the mattress didn’t appear to have been slept on.  Chance spoke up.‘You must forgive Landoria if her ways are a bit off-putting to you.  She is quite religious, as you may have guessed, as many of us Arcturian’s are.  It is a strong part of our culture.’‘Was for humans too, once.  But we grew up.’Chance just nodded, but it was not a nod of agreement.‘Do you want something to eat?  I can bring you various drinking liquids and fruit and vegetables.’‘You don’t have any fried chicken do you?’‘We haven’t had animal food for a long time, Captain Kolby.  The droid ship occasionally brings some, but most of us won’t eat meat.’‘Veges, huh.’‘Veges?  What do you mean?’‘Vegetarians!  Don’t eat meat! Oh forget it.’‘Yes, most of us would be vegetarians, as you put it.  But Landoria often eats the meat the droid-ships contain.’‘Well, some fruit-juice and whatever vegetables you have will be fine.  As long as the veges are cooked, ok.’‘That shouldn’t be a problem.’  She left him then, and he lay down on the bunk, closing his eyes.  Damn his generosity, as it was taking up time he could be spending in a fine harlots arms.  But deep down he knew he was doing the right thing. Chance soon returned with a flask of juice and a plate of steaming vegetables.  She gave him some utensils and he sat up on his bunk, trying them.  They were tasty enough, similar to what he had eaten on Arcturia before.‘Thanks Chance.  You know, if only you want to come, I will take you.  If nobody else is interested, I don’t mind of you tag along.  It will give me someone to chat with before we arrive at Arcturia.Chance looked at him, considering his words.  Eventually she spoke.‘This Ark has been my home all my life Captain Kolby.  And these people are my family.  But, yes, if they will not leave, I will come with you.  I was not brought up in the monarchy.  I was not part of the rebellion.  I think I have a right to make up my own mind.’‘You sure have.  Well, I will give them till a few hours after I wake.  If no decision, we leave.  Alright?  So gather your belongings.’‘Yes.  I will do that.  And thank you Captain Kolby.’‘Don’t mention it.’  6 In the morning Landoria spoke with Rimwalker.  The community had decided that they would not risk return at this stage.  But if Jan would speak with the council on Arcturia on their behalf it would be appreciated. Rimwalker made his way to the dock, were Chance was waiting.  He looked at her, all dressed up and ready to taste her new life.‘A new beginning for you sweetheart.  I am sure you will fit right in on Arcturia.  You look just like them,’ saying the last comment with sarcasm.‘Most funny, Captain Kolby.’‘Hey, call me Jan.  Or Rimwalker.  It is my alias.’‘Rimwalker?  Why Rimwalker.’‘Because I travel the galactic rim.  Have circled it twice now.  It’s more interesting out here.  Less formal – less developed.  I have been to so many of the central galactic systems, and they all worship a type of lifestyle that just don't suit me.  So fucking politically correct.  Always kissing each others ass.  Always diplomacy.  Uggh.  Give me the rim, were there is action, and even the odd war.  It is the place for a real man.’‘But is not Arcturia much like one of these central systems?’‘In some ways.  But despite your religion you guys are generally easygoing.  Not so legalistic with your legal system.  In the central system it is fucking hell with all the protocols you need just to get by.’‘Interesting,’ said Chance, illuminated by this wisdom.‘So you ready?  Said your farewells?’‘I am ready,’ she said nodding.‘Let’s go then sweetheart.’They both boarded the Wolfklaw, and shortly it was leaving the vicinity of the ark, headed for Arcturia.  7 ‘So human mating rituals are quite similar to our own?’‘Hey, sweetie.  I have done dozens of Arcturian harlots and they are just like humans, only blue.  I think we are related someway, but that is only a theory.’Chance looked at him naively, looking at his body.  Chance was a virgin, uncoupled on the ark, but was intending to mate if she could on Arcturia.  But this human looked interesting.‘You know, sweetheart.  Human woman come in differing shades like you Arcturian’s.  We have deep browns, even blacks, and reddish and yellow tinting, alongside my own shade.’‘Arcturian’s come in differing shades?’ asked Chance, most interested.‘You bet.  Mostly similar to your colour, but there are lighter and darker blues, and even the odd greenish looking Arcturian’s.’‘Fascinating.  Tell me, how long before we reach Arcturia?’‘Computer, estimated time of arrival for Arcturia?’‘37 minutes, Captain.’She looked at him.  ‘How long is a human minute?’‘This long,’ he said, pointing to the screen.  ‘Computer, show us Arcturia.’The computer proceeded to highlight the planetary body they were approaching, magnifying and zooming in.‘Computer, show us Zardray, the capital.’‘As you wish, captain.’  The screen proceeded to magnify the image, focusing on a sector of the planet, and zooming in.  Soon before their eyes was a sprawling metropolis, distinctly Arcturian in nature.Chance gazed at the picture, her heart fluttering at seeing home for the first time.  ‘This is Zardray?  The capital?’‘That it is.’She sat there, looking at it for many moments, her mind a wonder at the sight.  Eventually she spoke.  ‘Thank you, Jan Kolby.  Thank you Rimwalker for taking me home.  I am forever in your debt.’‘Better be careful, I might call in that debt one day.’She looked at him, saw he wasn’t being serious, and smiled. A few minutes later, as she continued to gaze at the screen, the computer spoke.  ‘Captain, we are being hailed by Arcturia.  Would you like to respond?’‘Open the channel.’‘As you wish captain.’‘….yourselves.  I repeat, please identify yourselves.  You have entered Arcturian space, and we require identification.’‘Kolby.  Jan Kolby,’ responded Jan.  ‘And I think I have something you guys will really thank me for.’The channel went silent for a few moments as that information was being processed.  Shortly the voice spoke again.‘You are cleared for entry, Jan Kolby.  Please proceed on your current course and you will be met by a craft which will escort you to our capital and quarantine.  Thank you for visiting Arcturia.’  The voice went silent. ‘Now what?’ asked Chance.‘We sit pretty, sweetheart.  Don’t sweat it.  I have done this thing a million times before.She nodded, continuing to stare at the screen.  8 In the underground Draxian piracy network on Arcturia, Dak Bluddhook had just been notified by one of his paid cronies in Arcturian defence of the soon arrival of one certain ‘Jan Kolby’, the illustrious ‘Rimwalker’.‘So the bastard is back,’ muttered Dak, as he made his way along the corridor of the Zardrayan temple of Daranok, one of the lesser deities of Arcturia, this particular temple a front for the Draxian pirates. The Draxian pirates were not all Draxian – that is simply were the piracy guild originated.  But it was widespread through the third quadrant of the galaxy, mostly rim-wards were lawlessness was easier to get away with  People joined the guild of piracy for many reasons.  Adventure, intrigue, power.  But mostly to make a quick buck the old fashioned way – robbery and plunder.  The guild had many fronts, even legitimate businesses throughout their territories, but these were mostly ways of laundering out goods obtained and selling other wares.  Dak Bluddhook was officially a deacon of the priesthood of Daranok, but he simply ran affairs for the guild in Zardray.  Strangely enough, Dak had run into Jan a few times, as Jan occasionally had questionable goods of his own which he needed disposing of as silently as possible.  They gambled together from time to time, Dak hating his bastard opponent for the small fortune won off him last time in port.  He would not be so lucky next time, Dak had sworn.  But he wanted to catch up with Jan, today if possible, for other reasons.  Jan had mumbled something about going to look for the lost Sigmorius crown, and Dak suspected the bastard had somehow claimed the prize.  That particular crown, so Dak understood, was still hidden in a cooling off period.  The league had obtained it originally, knew were it was hidden, but left it alone for now.  One day a profitable sale to Arcturian renegade royalists or other entrepreneurs could possibly be made, and as such it was a hidden, but known of asset for the guild.  If Jan had found it Dak wanted to know, and before anyone else. Muttering to himself he came to the outer port and entered his vehicle.  Programming in his destination, Regis Hotel were Jan usually stayed, Dak planned just how to obtain the information he needed.  9 ‘So do you like the room sweetheart?’‘You are sure this was the only room available?  They do not have any others?’‘Only this double,’ said Jan, Lying.  But hey, he was hoping to get lucky with Chance.‘What will you do next?’ Chance asked Rimwalker.‘I have a meeting with officials from the Monarchy scheduled.  Tomorrow afternoon Zardrayan time.  Business to take care of you see.  But for now we can rest a little and, if you like, we can see some of my types of places this evening.’‘Your types of places, she quizzed, her curiousity aroused.‘You’ll find out soon enough, sweetie.  I wonder what’s on the visuals.’  He picked up a remote control on the side of the bed cupboard beside were he was sitting and pointed it at the large visual screen.  After some button pushing an Arcturian sports match came on.  ‘This should be perfect,’ said Jan.  ‘Hey sweetie.  Do you fancy anything to eat?  I can order us some real nice Arcturian food.’‘Oh, yes.  Alright then,’ said Chance, still a little nervous at being home.  She was looking forward to going out that night with Jan to see Zardray a bit more and get to know her new home.  And then, in the morning, she could think about finding somewere to live. Munching on some fried chicken, which the Arcturian’s had imported from the human civilization and delighted in, Jan gazed at the behind of Chance Kibb’star, lying on the bed in front of him, eating her chicken, and watching the sports match.  It really was a fine ass, and Chance was a fine figure of a woman.  He had been thinking on and off about trying to score with her ever since leaving the Ark, and was hopeful.  But the lass would probably find somewere to stay and farewell him before he had the chance.  Still, that didn’t matter that much.  With a Billion Arcturian credits he could afford the finest of Arcturian harlots, something definitely to look forward to.‘You liking your chicken?’‘It is delicious,’ responded Chance.  ‘I never knew meat could be so tasty.’‘Hey, you have to live a little.  But watch your heart.  The cholesterol in this stuff can kill you.’‘I’ll be careful.’‘So, what are your plans Chance?  Will you find somewere to stay in the morning?  I guess I should have mentioned it before, but there seems to be a well advanced welfare system on Arcturia.  If you start there, they can give you somewere to live and an income for food.  Your young so you might want to consider getting a good education after that and look for work.  I’m sure you will be alright.’‘Yes,’ said Chance, hesitantly.  ‘I wasn’t really sure what I would do next, but thanks for that knowledge.  If you can help me find a place in the morning to get this welfare, I would really appreciate it.’‘We’ll make that the morning’s activity.  You might have to disclose your origin, but I personally don’t think that will be a problem.  Don’t sweat it, whatever you do.’‘I won’t.’They ate the chicken and as the evening passed, despite thinking he might try it on with her, he thought better of it, and simply went to bed looking forward to the billion credits he would hopefully receive in the morning, deciding against introducing his new friend to the nightlife of Zardray.  10 In the morning they were down in the breakfast bar of the Regis hotel when one of Jan’s old adversaries came walking into the bar and, spotting the two of them, came over to sit down. ‘Jan fucking Kolby.  Do you still have those credits you screwed me for?’‘Hey, a bet’s a bet, Dak.  Really, though, you should have seen it coming.  I had been playing you all night.  If you had called my bluff, I would be hassling you now.’‘I’ll be more cautious next time, Kolby.  So tell me, who is your new friend.  One of the ladies of the night I take it.’‘Hardly.  Dak Bluddhook, meet Chance Kibb’star.  Brand new to Arcturia.’‘So you are from Charnay, I take it,’ asked Dak about the Arcturian’s major colonial settlement of a nearby star system.‘Uh, no,’ replied Chance.  ‘I am from the Ark.’‘The Ark?  Now what exactly is that my dear?’‘Home to me and my family’, responded Chance.Dak gave her a quizzical look, but did not continue with the line of questioning.‘Anyway, Kolby.  Are you going to give me a chance to win my money back?  Go on.  I know you want to.  You could never resist a good gambling session.’‘Maybe some other time,’ responded Rimwalker.  ‘I have business to take care of at the moment.’‘And what business is that,’ asked Dak, carefully seeking the information he needed.‘Important business,’ was all that Kolby would reply.‘So you are seeing the Royalists, huh?’Kolby looked at him, a little suspicious, but decided to answer anyway.‘You could say that, Dak.  Imperial business, you see.’‘So when are you meeting them,’ continued Dak, determined to get the information he needed.‘What concern is that of yours,’ asked Kolby, now annoyed.‘Hey, take it easy buddy.  Just a friendly question.  It’s not everybody who has royalist business.  I was just curious ok.’‘Yeh, well curiousity killed the cat, Dak.’‘What is a cat?’ asked Chance.‘Small domestic animal.  Human’s love em.  Look, Dak.  I am afraid if you are fishing for information for the guild, you can forget about it.  While I may have royalist business, it is of no interest to the guild.  I can assure you of that.’  He was lying, of course, but the last thing Jan Kolby wanted was the guild of Draxian piracy snooping into his business, especially with a Billion Arcturian credits at stake.‘Relax, Jan.  Don’t worry about it.  Just happy conversation, hey.  You know, just gabbing.’‘Yeh, right,’ said Jan, eyeing his opponent suspiciously.  Deciding on a tactic to lose his friend, Jan spoke up.  ‘Tell you what.  How about we meet up tonight.  At ‘Rakkos’ in the city.  I will give you that opportunity to win your money back that you are looking for.’‘Sound’s good buddy.  I will see you there.’  Dak got up and farewelled them, but he would wait outside in his vehicle.  He would follow them and notify one of his fellow guildsmen.  If they had the crown, the guild would recover it.  You could bet on that. When Dak had left, Jan was pleased.  He had no intention of meeting him at ‘Rakkos’.  It had been a ruse to get rid of him.  In fact, thinking on it, as soon as he had converted most of the credits to gold, he would leave Arcturia.  Perhaps not the best place to stay at the moment with the guild snooping around. He looked at Chance.  ‘You ready sweetheart?  We will go and find welfare now, if you like.’Chance looked at him, a little sad to be leaving her new friend, but also happy to be starting her new life.‘Let’s go.’ Making there way out of the hotel, Jan gave thought to Dak and encouraged himself to be cautious.  It could be a dangerous ride today, and he would probably need his wits about him.  11 In the vehicle they had rented, Kolby had programmed in the nearest welfare office from the onboard directory, and they were cruising through the streets, Chance carefully looking at all the sights of her new home.‘Zardray is amazing, isn’t it Jan?’ said Chance, ever so pleased at the sights she was now seeing.‘So you like the scrapers, huh.  Yeh, they always dazzle kids.’She looked at him, uncertain what he meant, but looked back out the window.Having thought it over the night before, Jan decided to take the risk on what he was about to say.‘You know, Chance.  Jan Kolby, the fabulous Rimwalker, always works alone.  Always have done and always will.  But, you know.  Sometimes I get lonely.  Especially on long flights.  And, you know.  If you want.  I mean, if you really want to, you could hang with me if you like.  I don’t mind paying your bills and feeding ya.  Hell, you can do that yourself.  But it would give me company and give you someone to hang with for a while.  Well, whadda you say, kiddo.’Chance continued staring out the window, but she had heard Jan’s words.  After a while she turned to look at him.‘That, that is a kind offer, Jan.  But I have a new home now.  My home.  And I can’t leave it before I have really seen it, you know.  I just can’t.’‘Hell, of course I understand.  Don’t sweat it.’  But inside he was disappointed. When they reached the welfare office, and exited the vehicle, she looked at him.  ‘Well, farewell Jan Kolby.  Rimwalker.  It has been very exciting knowing you, but my life must begin.’  She looked at him for a moment and then awkwardly came forward and gave him a hug.‘Seeya sweetheart.  If I am ever in town, I will look you up.  Ok.’‘Ok,’ she said, wiping a small tear from her eye. She looked at him, gave one last wave, and turned to make her way inside the welfare office. He looked at the office for some time, and got into his vehicle.  She had been a good friend in the time he had known her, and he was disappointed to be leaving her.  But shit, life goes on. As he was programming in a city diner, a knock came to the door.  Looking through the window Chance was standing there.  He opened the door anxiously.‘What is it sweetheart?  Did you forget something?’She looked at him, and finally spoke.  ‘What is life without a bit of adventure, hey Rimwalker.  Yes, I will come with you if you will take care of me.  I guess why stop at Arcturia when I can see the galaxy.’He looked at her, came forward and kissed her on the cheek.  ‘Why the hell not, sweetheart.’ She got in and Jan finished programming the location for the diner.  He was pretty happy now.  She was a quiet gal, but suited to him.  Someone to enjoy spending time with.  Finishing the programming, the vehicle zipped away, oblivious to a red vehicle now following them.  12 As they sat eating in the diner Jan usually frequented when he was in Zardray, he couldn’t help but noticing an Arcturian, dressed in red, glancing at him from time to time.  He didn’t know the guy, but guessed he may be a guild crony.  They would have to be careful. ‘So what do you want to eat?’ Jan asked Chance.‘Whatever is good.’‘Hell, most of it is edible.  Take your pick.’  She surveyed the menu and finally ordered an item, Jan also ordering some Arcturian beer which the diner also served. They sat eating and, after a while, the Arcturian dressed in red got up, paid for his meal and giving Jan one last look, left.  That couldn’t be good news, Jan thought to himself.  They could be waiting outside.  Perhaps he should leave quickly.‘Come on Chance.  Sorry, we have to go now.’  Chance continued eating her meal, a little reluctant to leave, until Jan yelled ‘NOW!’  He left some Arcturian credits on the counter and waved to the attendant and grabbing Chance left the diner. Out in the port he looked around carefully.  The guy in red was not visible.  Mmm.  Perhaps he had not been guild pirate after all.  Still, they would need to be cautious. ‘Were to now,’ asked Chance.‘Now my business.  May as well get it over with.’  They got into their vehicle and Jan programmed in the Royalist sector of the city, were most of the buildings the Royalists used as well as the palace was located. The vehicle was humming along when, suddenly, a huge crash brought it spinning and over to the side of the road, colliding with the barriers.  Jan was dazed, and so was Chance, and when the Arcturian in red appeared, grabbed Jan’s satchel, and disappeared, he was still too dazed to stop him. Eventually they came to their senses and Jan, feeling for his missing satchel, began swearing profusely.‘Whatever is the matter,’ asked Chance.‘The bastards stole it.  All that work and they fucking steal it again.  Typical for the league, though.  Bloody typical.  Dak, that bastard.  He was behind this, I just know it.’‘Behind what,’ asked Chance.  ‘The crown.  The Sigmorius crown.  I was about to return it and claim the bounty of a billion credits.’‘Oh,’ she said.‘Yeh, oh.  Fucking oh.’‘Well, what now?’He thought quickly.  ‘We will have to notify the rental yard.  I paid full insurance, so that should cover the vehicle.  But for now we go back to the Wolfklaw.  I think I have a plan, but I need some time to think.’‘Ok.  Whatever you say.’Jan pushed an emergency button on the control panel and soon they were greeted by sirens.  He gave his details to the Arcturian police and they gave them a lift back to space-dock, were the Wolfklaw was located.  Jan was pissed, but he had a plan.  He had a plan.  13 Coming back onto the Wolfklaw, Jan was like a caged cat.  He began pacing through the command deck, anxiously thinking on his next move.  Chance sat down at the central station and just watched him.  She had joined an adventurer, she knew that much.  So life, really, would never be the same again.  She spoke up, carefully so as not to upset him, ‘Well, what is your plan, Jan.’Kolby looked at her momentarily, but said nothing and resumed his pacing.  Eventually he spoke up.  ‘Ok, ok.  I know what we are going to do.  As I recall from probable guild policy in a situation like this, they will likely transfer the crown to Drax itself for a while.  For safekeeping.  But they may decide to sell it soon anyway as it has been missing for so long.  But, either way, Drax is where we are headed.  Drax is where we are headed.’Chance Kibb’star looked at her new provider and, the question coming to her mind, asked it.  ‘And why are we going to Drax?’‘To join the league of piracy, sweetheart.  What else.’She looked at him and nodded.  Life, it seemed, was about to get a hell of a lot more complicated for Chance Kibb’star.  14  ‘Those are Deimonian clouds.  They are a phenomenon particular this side of Draxos.’Chance looked at the gaseous bodies floating on the screen in front of her.‘They go on for millions of kilometres in this area of space,’ continued Jan.  They are not that common throughout the galaxy, but you find them here and there.’‘They are so bright,’ commented Chance, noting the almost illuminated state of the clouds.‘The elements within them react with solar light in a very positive way, illuminating their body structures.  Harvesting the elements in these clouds is practiced here and there.’‘Mmm,’ nodded Chance, fascinated. The two of them were closing in on Draxos, home of the Draxian pirate guild. Not all Draxians were in the guild of course, the home in general being a regular type of planet with its own intelligent home species.  But Draxians were noteworthy for their ruffian ways, and you could always guarantee a fight in a pub if Draxians were present. ‘So how do we join this guild,’ asked Chance innocently.‘We will probably need a reference of some kind, but that might not be a problem.  I will use the bastard himself, Dak Bluddhook.  I will mention I have had dealings with him and we will see how we go.’‘How will we find the guild.’‘They will find us, sweetheart.  Don’t worry about that.’She nodded, content with that information. ‘Computer. Place Draxos on screen.’  In reply the computer obediently brought up a magnified picture of their planetary destination.‘It looks like Arcturia,’ stated Chance, surprised.‘Oh, it is a standard oxygen based planet, of similar size.  They all look similar from space.  But usually they have their own distinct array of plant and animal life.  Every planet is unique in that way.’Chance nodded. ‘Computer, what is our estimated time of arrival to Draxos.’‘16 minutes,’ responded the computer.‘We should be hearing from Draxos space command shortly. True to Kolby’s words Draxos soon hailed his ship and he was directed to a spaceport on Draxos.  Like Arcturia, Quarantine was standard on this planet, as well as a formal customs declaration, unlike the Arcturian’s who didn’t really care what valuables you brought on planet, as long as there were no quarantine problems. They hired a standard Draxian vehicle near the port, having transferred some gold to Draxian currency at the currency exchange at the port.  Jan had visited Drax before, and was known to some of the league members here, having had some minor dealings.  They would, so his hunch went, seek him out once they were notified of his arrival, perhaps expecting him with goods to trade in.  That was what he hoped for anyway.  15 Sitting in a Draxian pub, not far from the spaceport, Jan looked around the room seeing all sorts of galactic travellers of differing races.  He even spotted a few humans and was thinking about saying hello, but thought better of it.  Best to stay inconspicuous and let the guild find him. Chance was sipping on some Draxian ale, and enjoying the stuff tremendously.  In fact, she was part way through her second draft and was starting to feel the effects of the alcohol.  Looking at her Jan felt she needed to lie down and instead of returning to the Wolfklaw they would sleep it out in one of the vacant rooms of the pub.  He purchased a room, and dragged Chance upstairs. ‘Yuu arr sho kinddd, Jannn.  Fank yu.’‘Your pissed sweetheart.’‘Thigs Allleee.  Itt was sho ghud.’‘I’ll bet.’He manoeuvred her into their room and placed her down on her bed.  Fortunately she was out almost instantly.  He thought about undressing her to put her into her sleeping garments, but thought better of it.  Best to leave her as is.  He flicked on one of the visuals and, searching through the channels, found some Draxian sport.  He usually preferred sports to any news or drama items.  At least sports was generally a universal language, whatever the game. He watched it for a while, sipping on some ale, when a knock came to the door.  Getting up and opening it, he was greeted by a male Draxian in his middle years.  The Draxian spoke.  ‘You are Jan Kolby.  This is correct?’‘That is me.’  The Draxian looked relieved at that response.‘Well, do you have any dealings with the guild while here on Draxos.  It is why we assume you have come.’‘No transactions, but other matters.’‘If you have no transactions, we have nothing to discuss.’  The Draxian turned as if to leave, but Jan halted him.‘My business is this.  Me and my partner want to join the League.  We feel we can prove valuable members.’The Draxian looked at him for a few moments, considering those words, and then finally spoke.  ‘Very well then.  We will contact you here tomorrow.  Be ready to leave in the morning.’‘Will do.  And I have a friend – a contact in the leaguer.  Dak Bluddhook from Arcturia.  We are old acquaintances.  He can vouch for me, ok.’The Draxian nodded, remembering the name, and left. Jan returned to his bed.  So far so good.  The morning should prove interesting.  16 Chance awoke to find Jan’s hand on her butt.  She pushed it off and looked at him.  He was dead asleep.  She felt her head and grimaced.  Really, it was quite a hangover, one of the few she had experienced.  She shook Jan who grumbled, but eventually came to.  ‘What the fug is the time, he asked.  She looked at the wristpad he had given her, and said 11:24, having been taught how to read it.’  ‘Fuck.  Now let me see, that is about mid-morning Draxon time as I recall.  Our man should be here soon.’‘You have contacted someone?’‘Last night, while you were drowning in your sorrows.  A guild member showed up inquiring if we had business.  He is returning this morning some time.  So time to shower and shave, I guess.’ Jan got off, went to the Draxian bathroom and relieved himself, and showered.  Fortunately a showering system seemed standard for most galactic cultures he was aware of.  Most intelligent life was biped in structure like humanity, and many very similar species to humankind existed, especially in systems of earth’s quadrant.  But in the opposing quadrant which he did not visit that frequently there were indeed some bizarre alien cultures. After they had cleaned up and were preparing to go downstairs, a knock came at the door.  The Draxian from yesterday was standing there, with another Draxian guild member.  He spoke up.  ‘Your story checks out.  You can come with us now and our head in this city will assess your suitability for league membership.’ Jan and Chance gathered their backpacks and followed the Draxians. The vehicle took them to a central city office block and coming into the underground parking, they took elevators up to the 3rd floor.  Coming through the doors of the elevators they were in an office environment with computers and people busily at work.  The Draxians lead them to the main corner office of the building, knocked, and told them to wait.  They left and Jan and Chance stood there, waiting. After a few moments the doors opened, and they walked inside.  Sitting behind the desk was a rather hefty Drax male, with a long scar down his left cheek.  He had black hair, not that common for the Drax, as they were pale green skinned, and usually had green or bluish hair, but Jan had seen black occasionally.  The Draxian got up from his desk, walked to a side cabinet, and poured a beverage into three glasses.  He handed two glasses to Jan and Chance and spoke.  ‘If you are league material, you will be very rich when we let you retire.  But we have a test.  Fail it and you don’t make the cut.  Pass it and you become a full league member.’‘What is the test?’ asked Jan.The Drax smiled, pleased his new offerings were ready for the challenge.   ‘Nearby to Drax is a competitor to the league, as it were.  But we usually rob them blind.  Still, the Tekra have a fortress high in the Drz’Kdl Mountains near the northern pole of Tek, were they have much gold.  The test is this – steal at least a kilo of Tekra gold, bring it here, and you are in the league.  But be warned, many fail the task.  The Tekra fight hard often when challenged.‘You’ll have your gold.’‘We’ll see,’ said the Drax.  ‘We’ll see.’  17 ‘What the hell are you doing,’ Chance said, perplexed at Jan’s activities.‘Trust me.  This is the best way into the complex.‘But what is it?’‘Parachutes.  I have always had them on board.  Never thought I would need them, but now seems like a good opportunity.’‘So what’s the plan fearless leader?’‘If the blueprints Tarkan gave us are correct, the complex is guarded on every side but the northern side which goes up to unclimbable mountains.  If we land on the northern side, we can climb down and infiltrate the complex.’‘And how do we find the gold.’‘I know the room it is located in.  And I have ways of getting around security.  Don’t sweat it, sweetie.  Hey, trust me.’‘Yes, trust you.  Where have I heard that before.’Jan grinned at her sarcasm, but continued putting the parachute on following the ancient instructions.  Helping her fit hers, he spoke.  ‘Well, I will have the ship hover a few kilometres above the northern slopes and then remote it back out to space.  It will come and get us when we need it.’‘Well, Chance Kibb’star.  Are  you ready?’‘I guess.  You better hope this works.’‘Hey, what’s life without a little adventure, huh.’  She grinned at his reply. After a few minutes the computer spoke signalling they were at the desired range, and so Jan and Chance came to the side docks, opened it up, and looked carefully downwards.  ‘Here goes,’ yelled Jan to Chance, and jumped out.  Chance watched him descend slowly, made one of her religious hand signs, and jumped out. They shot downwards, ever so quickly, and Chance was shocked and a little frightened at the speed they were descending.  Soon Jan pulled his cord, and Chance, noting that, pulled hers.  They floated down the final few hundred metres and, coming to a snowy ground, looked around to gain their perspectives.  Jan touched a button on his wristpad, which gave a directional pointer, indicating the direction they needed to travel in.  ‘Come on sweetheart.  This way.  It should take us a couple of hours, but we’ll get there.  Chance started after him and they began the slow trudge downhill towards the Tekra complex. 18 Peering through his binoculars at the complex, Jan was satisfied.  All the guards seemed to be on the other sides of the complex.  Perhaps they wouldn’t have too many difficulties.  He motioned to Chance and they slowly approached a wall, made of thick stone.Chance looked at him.  ‘Well, how do we get in?’Jan pulled out his phaser, adjusted the setting and pointed it at the lower section of the wall.  After a few minutes cutting, a section had been cut out of the wall, and Jan carefully moved away the stone.‘You first, sweetie.  Don’t worry, there is nobody on the other side.  Motion sensors detect nothing, ok.’‘If you say so,’ said Chance, reluctantly getting down on her knees to climb through the hole.  Jan soon followed her and on the other side, lighting his torch, they found themselves inside a small room filled with various goods.‘Tekra booty, I guess.’‘What now?’ asked Chance.Jan looked around, but sensing no great valuables inside the room, he made his way to the door.  Turning it slowly, and looking outwards, they had come to a long corridor, filled with doors.  There were steps at the end of the corridor, going downwards.  ‘ Hey, we are in luck sweetie.’  He pointed to the near end of the corridor from them.  ‘The gold should be in that room.  It will have Tekran markings, so we could never fool the guild with our own stuff.  They want the real article to prove our skills, so Tarkan said. They carefully walked the corridor, coming to the room which apparently housed the gold.  Jan adjusted his phaser, and began work on the door lock.  Soon the door was opened, and they came inside.  There were various piles of currency in this room, and some paintings which may have been valuable.  But at the end of the room was a wall safe.  ‘I guess the gold is in there,’ said Jan.  Chance nodded. He looked at the safe and, deciding to try the old fashioned way, put his ear against the safe and proceeded to pick the lock.  It took him a while, and Chance stood at the doorway looking outwards, but eventually he had picked the lock and opening the safe they came into the safe interior and, to their gratitude, piles full of Tekran gold were lying there.‘Bingo!’, said Chance, happy enough.  But he was suspicious.  It had been too easy so far.Chance looked at him.  ‘How much do we need?‘A kilo.  Three bars should be plenty.  He looked at the gold and leaning down, picked up a bar.  Suddenly an alarm shot through the building.‘I wondered why it was so easy,’ said Jan.  He grabbed three bars of gold, placed them in his backpack and they made a hasty retreat back to the room they had come in from.  Closing the door he could hear activity on the staircase and realized they had made it just in time.  ‘Come on Chance.  And hurry for fuck’s sake.  They could be in here any minute. The two of them climbed through the hole in the wall, and Chance turned to Jan.  ‘Signal the ship.  Get us out of here.’‘Not yet.  We are too close to the complex.’  He looked around the range before them and over to the left.  ‘There,’ he said pointing to an outcrop of rock.  If we get to the side of the mountain, and climb down a little, the ship will be protected from attack by the mountain. As they rushed over to the outcrop, shots began ringing.  Jan looked back and spied some Tekran’s shooting at him.  Taking aim with his phaser, he shot back and hit the gun of one of the Tekran’s, who dropped it instantly.‘Run, Chance.  We haven’t got much time.’‘Have you signalled the ship?’‘It should be right below the outcropping.  I set it to quick rescue.’As they came to the outcropping, unfortunately the Wolfklaw was nowhere to be seen.‘What next, bright eyes,’ asked Chance sarcastically to Jan, who was looking everywhere for the ship.‘I think, sweetheart, we are almost fucked.  They will be upon us shortly.’  She looked at him, and nodded.  It had been a good life, but if this was her time to die, then so be it.  Chance looked at Jan, and spoke.‘You know, Jan.  There is something I want to say to you.’  But as she continued to speak, her voice was drowned out by the sudden arrival of the Wolfklaw.  She turned, saw the ship, and silently thanked her gods.  Jan yelled a command into his wristpad, and as the dock opened, laser bolts were blasting into the side of the ship. They hurried inside as quickly as they could, with the hull of the ship being blasted continually, and Jan ran to the command deck.‘Computer, get us the fuck out of here.  And make it now!’ he yelled at the computer.‘As you wish, Captain,’ replied the Computer.‘The ship quickly turned and, speeding off, Jan looked at the screen noting that the Tekran’s were now swarming over the mountain.’‘Will they follow us,’ asked Chance nervously.‘Perhaps.  But this ship has good camouflaging and cloaking devices.  We can hide and get out to space before they will catch us.’‘Let us hope so,’ responded Chance. As the Wolfklaw climbed the Tekran atmosphere, Jan looked at the screen.  Still no sign of pursuit.  For now they were safe.  They had done the deed and claimed  their prize. 19 Tarkan looked at the gold, carefully examined the markings and smiled.  ‘Yes, this is Tekran gold alright.  And you have 3 bars so I am sure it is at least a kilo.  I will do you the honour by not weighing it.’‘Thanks,’ said Jan sarcastically.  ‘So are we in.  Are we league members.’‘Yes, Jan Kolby.  You and Chance Kibb’star are now league members.  We have contacted Dak Bluddhook to verify his knowledge of you.  He told us frankly you were a contrary type of individual, but someone who would make a good guild member.  So welcome to the guild of piracy, scourge of the third quadrant.  For this little treasure you may have a few weeks before we assign you some duties.  I will get some of my servants to gain you some living quarters, and they can instruct you on what you need to know.  I think, yes, Dalok.  He will make a good instructor for yourself and Chance.’Tarkan pushed a button, and spoke into a microphone.  ‘Jella.  Could you contact Dalok.  We have new recruits for him to work with.’‘Yes Tarkan,’ responded the voice.  ‘Dalok is currently in the bar downstairs, so I will go down and fetch him.’‘Thank you Jella.’ Later that afternoon, Dalok had instructed Jan and Chance on much of the interior workings of the League of Piracy.  Much of it Jan was already familiar with from his dealings with Dak, but inside knowledge was always the best.  They had three weeks to settle into their quarters on the northside of the city.  After that, they would have some work, so Dalok told them, with the crew of the ‘Black Terror’, running the spaceways further into the galaxy in the third quadrant.  ‘Standard piracy business,’ Dalok informed them.  Hijacking ships and stealing plunder. That night Jan was alone with Chance and she asked him the crucial question.  ‘Well Jan.  How are we going to get the crown back?  And how will we do it without the league knowing?’‘Now that we are in the league it should be easier to get inside information from Dalok and the others.  If we are careful, we might just find out were the crown is located.  And then, depending on the challenge, we reclaim our prize.’‘And if it is locked up tight?’‘I know a specialist.  A Shadrachian thief who can get into anywhere.  We hire him and finish the job.’‘You hope,’ replied Chance.‘Hey, have a little faith, sweetheart.  Have I let you down yet?’She smiled curtly back, but was silently pleased Jan seemed to have a plan.  20 Settling into their upper level unit of a 3 storey complex of flats, Jan in one room, chance in the other, Jan was sitting one day, watching the visuals, familiarising himself with Draxian culture.  Chance was sitting over at the side of the room, looking into a mirror and brushing her hair.  Jan felt it an opportune time to ask her some questions which had been on his mind. ‘You know, sweetheart.  The last few weeks have been really kind of hectic for you I guess.  I mean we are from one place to the next, and we have never really had an opportunity to settle for long.  Fortunately we have some time now.  But one thing has been on my mind.  You are young for an Arcturian, Chance.  Only 20 human years in equivalent.  And you must be, I guess, eager to find a partner or a mate to, you know.’She looked at him.  ‘You know what?’‘You know.  Mate.  Couple.  Have sex.’She looked at him, a little shocked, but after a while nodded, returning to look in the mirror.‘Yes.  Yes, that is important to me Jan.  But I have lived my life without a partner so far, and I can wait a while, I guess.  Besides, I am with you now, and like you as a friend.’  She turned to him.  ‘In fact, I am very happy tagging along with you Jan.’‘That is good.  But don’t you get the desires.  I sure as hell do.’‘Oh, yes.  Occasionally.  But believe me I can cope with them.  All Arcturian’s can.  I will mate, in time.  But for now I am with you, and am happy with that.  Please believe me.  You offer me something in life which I really can’t get elsewhere.  Action, adventure, real drama.  It is something I only read about in Arcturian stories growing up.  But you are the real deal.  So don’t worry about me Jan.  When the time comes for me to find a mate, I will let you know, ok.  So don’t sweat it sweetie.’Jan smiled at her last comment.  ‘Thanks Chance.  That is a load off of my mind.’  And, silently, he was relieved.  He knew the girl would need to mate one day, but the fact that she had chosen him as a living companion for the time being was a solace to his somewhat lonely life. And, as the week passed, he grew to know her, learning of her upbringing on the Ark, and the mundane life she had grown accustomed to, apart from capturing the droids which had always been something of a thrill.  It seemed, despite his own very obvious flaws which he occasionally rebuked himself for, that Jan Kolby, the fabulous Rimwalker, may have been the best thing to happen so far in the life of Chance Kibb’star.  And, whatever else, that was at least something positive.  21 Dalok looked a bit suspicious at Jan’s question, but answered it anyway.  ‘Well, if you must know, we store our most precious goods at the guild hall in Retak, a city on the northernmost continent of Draxos.  It is impenetrable.  Believe me, totally impenetrable.  We have had some of the Galaxies finest security detailers design the place, and it will never be broken into.  Of course, that is important, because wealth is the most important thing for the guild.  Lavish, decadent wealth.  We are popular and attract new recruits because of what we can offer them.  So don’t worry, our goods are safe.  You can count on that.’Jan nodded, pleased with that information.  He now assumed, given that the guild likely had the Sigmorius crown, that it was located at the guild hall in Retak.  Getting it back would not be easy, but he already had a head-start.  As a guild member he may be able to infiltrate further into the guild hall in Retak than he otherwise might be able to.  That just, and just, might give him the edge.  If he was to get the crown back, which had been his goal all along, and joining the league being the way to achieve it, he would need any edge he could get. They sat drinking in the bar at the ground level of the guild hall, were Dalok drank frequently.  Chance was over by the side of the bar, playing a video game which she seemed to be becoming quite adroit at.  They had a small games console back at the flat which she was now addicted to which did make Jan realize that she was still something of a youth and had led a sheltered upbringing on the ark to some degree.  But good luck to her.  If she enjoyed these games, that was a positive.  He felt it would teach her good eye-hand coordination if nothing else, which could come in handy one day. ‘Well, Jan.  I have got to get going.  Business for Tarkan and the guild tonight.  But I am enjoying our drinking sessions, and you always ask the most interesting questions.  I shouldn’t answer half of them but, heck, you are in the guild now.  I know I can trust you.’‘You sure can,’ replied Jan, his insincerity lost on the mildly intoxicated Dalok. Dalok got up and left and Jan continued drinking his ale.  The league had given him a reasonable income, and he would own the flat on the northside of the city after a year if all things turned out well with his work.  He had even considered simply staying with league anyway, as its perks were actually quite good, and Draxon was starting to become something of a home, Jan rarely staying anywhere long, now getting used to the place.  But, no.  The crown was his prize.  And the rim beckoned.  The rim – the galactic rim – home of the illustrious Rimwalker.  He could never leave the life it offered, no matter the prize. Walking over to Chance, he looked down at the screen and yelled at her to shoot one of the aliens, but she ignored him, having learnt the game for herself. The next two weeks passed and as Jan got to know Chance even better, he learned more and more of the internal operations of the league.  When the time came for him to claim the crown, he would be ready.  Whatever else he would be ready.  22 Dalok introduced Jan to a Draxian pirate, well into his middle age, dressed all in black.  ‘Jan, this is Kal Shandray, captain of the ‘Black Terror’.  You have been assigned to his command for standards raids in sector G7 of the third quadrant.  He’s an ornery sort, so watch what he says.’  Jan offered his hand, but Kal just looked at it.‘So, tell me lad, how are you in a fight.  If things get sticky, can we rely on you.’‘I can handle myself.’‘And your partner,’ inquired Kal, looking over Chance.‘She’ll be fine.  She is a survivor, like myself.’‘If you say so.  Well, we are leaving port tomorrow night, so best get a good night’s sleep.  Meet us at the dock around mid-day and I will introduce you to the crew.  Now, Dalok.  You still owe me a round you dog.  Well, get to it.’  Dalok, obediently, signalled the waitress and ordered a round of drinks. Casually chatting to Kal Shandray, Jan was immediately struck by the Captains bawdiness, even more so than his own.  He swore frequently, and was very authoritarian, but he seemed sure of himself which would have to be important. Later that night, Kal and Dalok leaving in a vehicle, Jan came over to were Chance was resting on the side of the bar, and gently woke her.  ‘Time to go love.  We leave on our first mission tomorrow night, so we will need a good night’s rest.  We could be away for a few months, apparently, so get anything you need in the city tomorrow.  You might want to visit that Arcturian shop again, see if there is anything you want.  I will pay if you don’t have enough money.’Chance nodded sleepily, and got to her feet following Jan to the vehicle outside.  As they sped along back to their apartment, Jan thought on his new life as a space pirate.  He would have to practice with his phaser tomorrow morning to brush up somewhat.  He could be in need of it shortly.  But, hopefully, from what Shandray was saying, they usually robbed easy targets with little defence, so he may not see any action.  But he would have to be ready just in case. They arrived back at their apartment and Chance had fallen asleep in the vehicle.  He didn’t want to wake her, so picking her up he came to the security doors, punched in his code, and came to the elevators and made his way up to their apartment.  Placing her on her bed when back inside he looked her over.  Really, for an Arcturian female, she was blossoming, and he felt a stir in his loins looking at her.  But he controlled himself, put a blanket on her, and left the room.  When his mission was over and he claimed his prize he could have all the Arcturian female flesh he could possibly desire.  23The following morning Chance came out onto the balcony, were Jan was shooting his phaser at tin cans.  ‘What the hell are you doing Jan,’ she asked.  ‘Practicing.  I may have need of these skills on the ‘Black Terror’ if we are to board ships.  You never know when close combat could be involved.’‘Right,’ she said, yawning and sipping on a can of soft drink.  Jan continued for half an hour, shooting at cans on low beam, mainly to practice his aim.‘Doesn’t that Phaser have an aiming mechanism.’‘Yes, it does.  But it is unreliable.  You can program it carefully and often it still fucks up.  Too many unpredictable variables for it really to deal with.  Manual is the safest way to go, especially out on the rim were the action can be intense.’  She nodded, taking in that information. Jan continued shooting at cans all that morning and when Chance had arrived back from the city with a bag full of items, they were ready to leave. ‘Remember Chance, we will be onboard the ship for months.  So you won’t have clean air to breath most of the time.’‘Hey, I was born on the Ark remember.  We only ever had recycled air.’‘Yeh, I know.  But I figured you may have been getting used to life on Draxos which won’t be like the ship.  Your body might need some time to adjust.’‘I’ll be fine.’‘Just letting you know, ok.  Now, apparently there will be some harlots for the men onboard the ship.  Shandray assures me you will be fine, but also told me to keep my eye on you.  So be careful with the men.  You’re attractive lass and they are pirates.  So keep  your wits about you.’‘Thanks for the compliment,’ replied Chance, smiling at him.‘Think nothing of it.  Well, if you are ready, we best be going.  I have put our luggage in the transporter, and we have to be at the dock at mid-day according to Shandray’s instructions.  So if there is nothing else.’Chance followed him as they made their way down to the basement parking were there transporter was located. As they sped there way through the city heading for the spacedock Jan thought on Chance and the male pirates onboard the ‘Black Terror’.  With a name like that they were probably not that friendly, especially considering the nature of their captain.  He would have to keep his eye on Chance, perhaps at every moment.  24 Chance looked at her sleeping quarters on the Black Terror.  She had been assigned a bunk in the ‘ladies’ quarters, were the harlots slept.  Apparently no male could go so long out at space without some loving attention, and a Draxian as well as three other females from various species met the males on the ships particular needs in that area. Chance, being religious, had scruples to a degree about promiscuity, as reflected in Landoria’s strict upbringing in terms of morality by the Ark’s inhabitants.  She knew Jan really had no such ideals but, despite and perhaps because of that she felt attracted to him.  He was rogue.  She knew that.  But she had grown to love him over the last couple of months and would stick with him even in spite of his flaws.  Because of this she felt she would be alright bunking with daughters of the night.  Perhaps she may rub off some good values onto them. She returned to the main deck, were Jan was sitting at a table, talking with Dalok who was about to leave.  Jan and Chances initiation period had come to an end, and they were now expected to live the life of the guild.  If they came back from this mission successful, they would receive a portion of the goods taken, and be rested for their next mission.  This was pretty much the life of a space pirate, so Dalok maintained, apart from the odd special mission which the guild visited upon more experienced members.  ‘You never know,’ said Dalok.  ‘Prove a boon to the guild and you might get some tasty missions.  But you will have to show your worth.’As they pulled away from Draxos Chance looked at the screen showing the disappearing planet.  In a strange way it had become home, and she would miss it.  But that couldn’t be helped.  She was with Jan for many reasons, but if they could reclaim the Sigmorius crown, the money it would bring of which Jan had promised her a substantial cut could, in the end, afford her a life on Arcturia which she could only have dreamed about previously.  And so, despite the current circumstances, she would grin and bear it and get on with her responsibilities.  25 They spent three weeks travelling from dock to dock, occasionally staying overnight, but usually to gather food and information from various guild outposts.  When they had gotten some useful information from Gartonias 6 in sector G5, Kal ordered a change to their original destination, as a new lead looked promising.  A nearby system was having a great celebration to mark Unification Day when three of the major powers of the system united to form the greatest alliance the planet had known.  And apparently there would be busy space-faring around this time to import various items for the celebration.  ‘We may not get much gold,’ commented Captain Shandray, ‘but I have a hunch they may have something the guild will find very useful.  If they are importing the stuff for the festivals.’  But he would not say more than that. A few days later they hijacked their first ship, which was enroute to Telkonias, the home of the festival.  Jan and Chance were both in the boarding party and Jan managed to shoot, set on stun, one of the guardsmen of the ship when they had docked abruptly and boarded it.  Fortunately, checking for life signs, the guard was only stunned, Jan reluctant to kill on this mission.  But the other pirates had no such convictions, and the ships three other guardsmen were killed.  The captain did not know the guardsman was only stunned, so congratulated Jan on his kill.  Jan did not pretend otherwise, but locked the guard’s body in a holding cell when he had the chance, in case he woke. The captain was pleased with the haul.  As he had suspected, the ship contained, amongst many other celebratory items, the powdered element Curantia, which was commonly known to humans as ‘Paradise’, for the extremely powerful ecstatic effects it had when mixed with other basic drugs.  Curantia was one of the rarest elements in the galaxy, and it was prized.  Every culture liked ‘Paradise’ and the captain was overjoyed to find a supply being shipped to the festival on Telkonias. ‘Well done men,’ he praised, when everyone was back on board the Black Terror.  You have done well.  And Jan, Chance.  You both showed aptitude.  The guild will be well pleased with you.’  Jan nodded.  He had been lucky this time, to get away with his blunder, but it had worked out for the best.  But he would have to be ready next time, as they were not heading home yet, but were continuing to there original mission. Later that night he sat with Chance, and they both enjoyed the small amount of Paradise mixed with some Draxian liquid they had been given.  Jan lay on his bed, totally zonked, staring at the ceiling.  He was high alright, and as the night passed, dreams of naked Arcturian women filled his head.  26 Out in sector G7, were the Black Terror was headed, the spacecraft Ravensclaw was sending out a distress signal.  But to no avail.  The final member of the Ravensclaw tasted bitter death, and the entity which was an emissary of its homeplanet on the other side of the Galaxy, took control of the ship, and plotted in the co-ordinates for a nearby system to gather some supplies before heading home.  The entity was a Dronganite – an electricity based life-form, which had the ability to become solid when necessary.  It was almost like living light in some ways.  They were, usually, not given over to the darker side of life Dronganians, but there were renegade elements in that society, some of which were seeking galactic conquest.  They lived on a system near Drongan, an early colony which had been abandoned due to the planets harsh climate.  But the renegade Dronganians, whose cultic leader assured them of their destiny to rule the galaxy, had been populating madly and were settling some of the uninhabited planets of the first quadrant.  Nobody really payed much attention to the apparent threat of the Dronganians, but they were passionately pursuing their agenda, and believed one day they would rule the universe.  Presently a number of operatives were working in the third quadrant in work similar to the guild of piracy – slowly acquiring wealth.  With money their leader assured them they would rule.  It bought loyalties, and land and other assets when necessary.  However they achieved their goal, money was necessary.  So in this phase of the renegade Dronganian society, raid and plunder abounded. Unfortunately, for Jan Kolby and Chance Kibb’star, they were headed for a rendezvous with this particular Dronganian which would cause something of a setback in their own plans.  Quite a setback.  27 Chance sat with Trim Wannabe on the edge of her bunk, chatting about life.  Trim was the Draxian harlot, used by half a dozen of the crew to satisfy sexual urges.  And did she have some tales to tell.‘Ohh, Chance.  You really must taste man-flesh.  You will realize the hypocrisy of your religion when engaged in what life is all about.  Believe me my dear.’Chance had heard the persuasions of Trim to give up her virginity before, but had ignored them.‘But don’t you feel dirty?  Used?  Landoria tells me that is how all harlots feel deep inside.’‘Oh, Chance.  The religious always say things like that.  But they don’t know what it is like to take a man’s organ into their mouth and delight when he comes.’Chance blushed.  Trim often talked quite brazenly.‘You know your partner, Jan.  You should offer yourself to him.  I have seen the way he looks at you.  He won’t say no, sweetie.  Believe me.’‘Jan!  I don’t think so.’‘What is wrong with him?’‘He is a human for beginners.’‘Oh, from what I know your species are compatible.  I have even met offspring of Humans and Arcturian’s.’Chance looked at him, surprised.  ‘Really?  We can mate?’‘You produce pale greenish children when you do.’Chance nodded, finding that most interesting.  ‘But no, I couldn’t.  Not Jan.  He looks after me.  It wouldn’t be right.’‘Never say never, sweetie.’ In the main command deck, Captain Kal Shandray was steadily consuming some Draxian ale, boasting of all his grand achievements.  He had claimed Jan as his prize to tell all his tales to and Jan, still somewhat sober, sat listening to all his fabulous tales of his 30 years in the league of piracy. Kal had been an orphan; problematic since his youth, in and out of jail, and when the league had beckoned he had taken his opportunity with open arms.  And in the 30 years he had been in the league he had lived a life of pure rebellion, a renegade in a job perfectly suited to him.  He was currently recalling his last adventure in space were, supposedly, despite Jan thinking it a fiction, he blasted his way through 2 gigantic dragon-like creatures, breathing fire, to claim the egg they were hiding, a prized delicacy.  Jan really felt the story more fiction than fact, but it was fascinating anyway. Later on, as Kal was becoming increasingly drunk, he recalled details from that encounter in reference again, but with strangely differing details which led Jan to conclude on his assumption that Kal Shandray was a fabulous storyteller, which in fact he was. They eventually claimed sleep and, as the night passed, the ship steadily entered sector G7 and its destiny.  28 ‘It should do.’ Commented Kal Shandray, in response to the space-cruiser on their screen.  ‘It seems to be going solo, so we should have no problems from any other backup ships.  Get ready to dock.’ The Black Terror, with its extremely hi-tech tractor beam, a long part of guild piracy tradition, put a hold on the ship the ‘Ravensclaw’ and, lining up docks, began their terror activities. Coming inside, though, they found nobody present, which was extremely alarming.  After a quick search for the ship Captain Shandray made the statement that the ship was likely on automatic, and that any plunder it had would be theirs.  Surveying the holding docks they were in luck.  About 50 bars of Gold, various currencies and some minor jewels.  Quite a catch.  Kal looked at Jan and Chance.  ‘Ok, you two.  You want to prove yourselves.  You stay on board this ship, and we will maintain tractor beam hold and tug you back to Draxon.  The ship itself could come in useful for the league.  It looks pretty advanced and is the kind of ship we use.’Jan nodded.  An opportunity to prove himself he thought. The crew returned to the ‘Black Terror’ and Jan and Chance remained onboard the ‘Ravensclaw’.  The ‘Black Terror’ fixed its tractor beam hold and they started to make their way back to Draxon. ‘Well, this was easy,’ said Chance.  ‘We have hardly seen any action, and we already have goods to bring back to the guild.  They will think favourably of us, don’t you think Jan?’Jan nodded and opened a can of beer.  ‘Let’s hope so.’ As the ships sped along approaching light speed, suddenly, without warning, there was a huge jolt, and the hold of the tractor beam was shattered.  Then surges of electricity pulsated through the Ravensclaw, it slowed down, turned around, and shot of back in its original direction.  And, without warning, shot to Warp 8 Light Speed to lose the Black Terror for good. Chance looked at Jan, but all he would say was ‘Fuck!’  What had they gotten themselves into?  29 The Dronganian surveyed its new hosts.  Human and Arcturian by the looks of it.  It could kill them – that would be easy.  But, perhaps, no.  Perhaps it would simply enjoy the pleasure of their company on the trip home, and kill them then.  He could entertain himself watching their primitive behaviours. Jan looked at Chance, signalling defeat, and she responded with a frustrated look of her own.  Initially they had tried Contacting the ‘Black Terror’ but none of the communication instruments seemed to work.  And then they found out that nothing really worked on the control deck and that they were now hostages to a ship which somehow ran itself.  But why the oxygen? Queried Jan constantly.  And why the seats?  Why would an automated ship need these things? After 3 days of endless travel and finally conceding defeat, they had both concluded that they were likely headed somewere and would do something when they arrived.  For now they would simply sit it out and wait. They found food and drink supplies as well as bathroom facilities and mostly kept themselves busy playing the various card games Jan had acquired in a lifetimes pursuit of gambling. When they hit Warp 17, which Jan assured Chance was about as fast as any solar-star ship had ever travelled, noting the shuddering of the ship, Chance asked Jan wether the ship would hold together.  Jan informed her that at the current speed they could make the other side of the galaxy within a few weeks and that unless they were headed for Andromeda or some other galaxy, the ship should last the distance. Assured of her safety, Chance spent a lot of time watching the screens as the various star systems whizzed by from time to time.  Wherever they were headed, she had time to learn something of space travel, and inquired into Jan’s knowledge of the Galaxy and how ships got around.  She found out that in the more central systems of the galaxy travel could become very complicated with the higher level of traffic and the great sense of diplomacy and protocol.  Apparently inner systems felt themselves the true representatives of the galaxy and the systems right near the centre often called themselves galactic royalty.  But nobody rim-wards really cared.  Paths between them did not cross that much and life went on regardless. However, as the star systems came and went and, according to Jan, they neared the centre of the galaxy were the stars were a lot thicker, Chance wondered what it would be like to meet some of the inner citizens of the galaxy. Humans had a colony on a central planet of the galaxy, which a confederation corporation had paid for at an exorbitant price to establish a physical presence in the humdrum of galactic life.  Technically it was still owned by the corporation, yet thousands of shareholders and other interested parties had purchased land there to live the high life of the galaxy, and ‘New Terra’ as it was called was gradually becoming humanities most envied location for living.  Jan had been once, sussed it out, and left impressed with the sheer quality it offered.  It was the upper of upper class planets, and he now well understood why it was sought after so much. As the weeks passed Chance grew in more and more knowledge of galactic life, Jan telling her all he knew, and as they passed the centre, heading into Quadrant One, they both sensed that perhaps now they were nearing their location.  The wait should be over soon.  30 Chance was the first to notice as the ship gradually slowed down from Warp 17, gradually coming right down to Warp 1 and soon into impulse power.  Jan looked at the screen.  ‘We are well into Quadrant 1 by the looks of it – about two thirds from the centre rim-wards.  But don’t ask me were exactly – its an enormous galaxy.’‘How many planets are there in the galaxy, anyway?’ asked Chance.‘Various estimates.  There are a heck of a lot of uncharted ones.  But we know of about 1,000 intelligent species who are now space-faring and around 100,000 oxygen based planets, most of which are now settled or colonized.  But there are millions, probably billions of dead planets.  Some of them are mined, but there are a number of terra-forming operations going on many of them to gradually make them habitable.  Back in Earths solar system Mars is now completely liveable on, but it was a dead planet to start with.’ As the days passed, they saw coming onto the screen a planet in the system they had entered.  Gradually they drew closer and closer to the planet and, finally, Jan announced, which Chance had already assumed, that they had reached their destination. And, suddenly, they were in orbit of the planet, sitting there for 3 days.  On the fourth day they noticed a ship approaching and when it had docked, and the doors were opened.  3 creatures, humanoid in shape, looking as if there bodies were made of light, came on board.  Jan and Chance stared at them, but the creatures ignored them.  One of the creatures spoke and shortly afterwards electricity surged from the control panel of the Ravensclaw and another of the creatures now stood before them. Chance quickly made the connection.  ‘He was piloting our ship.  Wasn’t he?’ she asked Jan, who simply nodded and said probably.  He picked up his translator and turned it on and suddenly the conversation between the creatures came alive. ‘…..has good supplies, and some good gold.  I felt it worthy booty for the sector and should prove a good boon for our goals.’  The creature who had been aboard their ship seemed to be the one speaking as far as Jan could tell. ‘And these two,’ said one of the creatures, pointing at Chance and Jan.  ‘Why did you bring them?’‘Entertainment.  Nothing more.’The creature looked at Jan and Chance, surveying them.  ‘Mmm.  They might come in useful.  We can always use new slaves.  These two look strong.  Some of the families might want them.  Bring them.’ Without warning Jan and Chance were shoved into the holding bays of the Ravensclaw.  Shortly afterwards the ship was guided downwards to the planet and about 2 hours later they had been brought into a large complex near were they docked on the planet.  Jan still had the translator turned on and nobody seemed to be trying to take it from him, so he listened intently. After a conversation between two of the creatures in the building they had been taken to, one of the creatures looked at the translator and then spoke to Jan.  ‘Human, aren’t you?’Jan nodded.‘You two are slaves now.  It will be a life of servitude, but we will feed you for your work.  Occasionally, if slaves work hard, they are freed.  We are not barbaric you see.  Just fit to rule.’  Jan looked at Chance.  They had been reduced to slaves.  Things it seemed could not get much worse. 31 They began their life of slavery for the house of Jak’takr, one of the official families of Trago, the home planet of the new house of Drongan, so they were dutifully informed.  The Royal house of Sha’kar, which was the settling house of their first Emporer, who claimed the vision for the new house of Drongan to conquer the galaxy, ruled the other houses, and all paid tribute to them.  Apart from the Royal house and the officially recognized families were a number of other drone families who usually served the official and royal family as servants.  But the lowest class of all were the foreign slaves of which class Jan and Chance were now members.  Somehow the two of them had been mistaken for man and wife, which was an important part of Drongan culture, and they had been sent everywhere together, even given the same living quarters. The house of Jak’takr were one of the more senior of the official houses, having a great deal of contact with the Royal house of Sha’kar.  Jan and Chance soon found out that, as they were a leading house, like the Royal house especially, all news centred around their growing empire was treasured.  They had settled 107 dead planets within their sector and were gradually terra-forming them.  But the real deal, so the Royal family maintained was the day of liberation when, having amassed as much galactic wealth as they could, they would engage in war with other sentient galactic communities in the overall goal of New Drongan culture – galactic conquest. As the weeks passed, though, and despite the official front the house of Sha’kar maintained, from Jan’s observations it seemed very few, apart from the Royal house, really believed in the conquest of the galaxy which had once been a dream amongst the community in its formative years.  Firstly, most realized that conquering every other species, some of which were just as potentially warlike as their own, would be extremely difficult.  And secondly, as their empire had grown, and through the wealth they had amassed, many were now seemingly content.  It had been a vision once, but had diminished.  New Drongans were generally satisfied, now, with their lot. Occasionally, also, they received news from Drongan itself, which was a far older community.  Drongan had an empire of around a dozen settled planets, and were far more passive than the renegades who had left them.  But apparently, so he was told, Drongan’s looked fondly on their offspring these days, and as time had passed, so some of the members of the house of Sha’kar told him, unification with old Drongan seemed to gradually be becoming a reality.  And unofficially Jan and Chances house of Sha’kar pursued that aim, with the occasional diplomat guest from old Drongan. Their lives as slaves were, fortunately, quite basic.  Chance had been assigned to the kitchen and cooked food and occasionally served.  Jan worked in the stables were horse like creatures were kept and also had to cut wood with a primitive axe from time to time, in keeping with Drongan tradition.  When Drongans materialized in hard light form, their bodies took on properties similar to other cultures and they were sensitive to things like food and pain, heat and cold.  They did not really go to the toilet like other species, but often exuded waste material from their outer shell, or burned it totally when going into electric form.  Although they did not do this unless they had too as it could be tiring unless near a source of electricity to recharge them. As an official house, the Sha’kar dressed lavishly and after one years service in the kitchen, Chance was promoted to handmaiden to one of the senior ladies of the Sha’kar.  As that work progressed, Jan and Chance started assuming that they would likely be in the service of the Drongans for the rest of their lives and settled down to life together, seemingly as husband and wife.  But despite them sharing the same room, they were yet to mate.  Jan respected Chance, and Chance was waiting.  Soon, though, she might approach him.  She had grown to love him now, quite strongly.  And he was a cornerstone in her life she really needed in this exile.  The Drongan’s themselves treated them well but it was still made certain they were slaves and nothing more.  But Jan was like her, in the same situation, and as the second year passed and the third began Chance began to think she had found her life-mate.  32 Chance found Jan piling up wood.  Most of the day had passed, and evening had descended.  He would be free to do what he wanted soon, and Chance’s lady was away for a few weeks, not having called upon her assistance.  Finishing his work, Jan came over to her and gave her a peck on the cheek.  Chance smiled.‘Come on, Jan.  We are eating in our room tonight.’‘Why not the kitchen.’‘Oh, you’ll see.’ Jan followed her inside, past the kitchen, to their slave quarters.  They had been moved recently to a better quality of room, mainly because, so they had been told, they had faithfully served and were proving useful slaves.  Their new quarters were quite a bit larger with nice decorations and a good large bed which they both shared. As they ate a special meal which Chance had prepared, Jan caught her looking at him often.  Eventually he queried what was on her mind, but all she would say was ‘Just wait.’ When they retired for the evening Chance came to Jan’s side of the bed and helped him with his boots.  But she did not stop there, which was the norm, but proceeded to unbutton his shirt, all the time looking into his eyes.  Jan was not a stupid man.  After a while he knew what was on her mind and concluded something.  Perhaps this was her time.  Apparently she had chosen him as worthy and he himself loved her now, knowing no other for so long. They were both passionate that night – extremely passionate.  And in the morning, Chance resting in Jan’s arms, she knew she had made the right choice.  Jan had been sensitive at times, but dominant when he needed to be.  Really, for her first time, he had been the perfect lover.  And lying there, resting in his arms as he dozed, she felt she had found the love of her life.  And, in spite of their captivity, things felt right in the world for Chance Kibb’star.  33 In a very real way, Jan and Chance were now married.  They’d had a long time together before sexual relations, and had grown to respect each other because of it.  But Chance, who now fussed over Jan even more than before, whispered from time to time that they should make their togetherness official.  Jan was a little reluctant as, despite his captivity, he was still somewhat used to his roguish ‘Rimwalking’ ways.  But, if love was ever to come into his life, he would perhaps, having gotten to know her, not chosen many other than Chance Kibb’star.  She was still quite gentle, rather than naïve in how the world worked and he found in her a feminine quality sometimes absent from some of the tougher female humans he had known.  Really, she could perhaps make the perfect wife.  And then when, in discussion about Arcturia, she mentioned that the pale green skinned Arcturian’s Jan talked about were likely the result of Humans mating with Arcturian’s, as she had been informed by Trim Wannabe onboard the Black Terror, Jan concluded that if they were compatible for mating, marriage was reasonable. And so, in a private ceremony, and before a figure Chance had made to represent the higher power who they took their oaths before, promising to be loving and faithful to the other, Jan and Chance wed and became, officially, man and wife. From then on Jan was a little more cautious about Chance.  Careful to respect her properly and show her love.  He brought her flowers often, a strongly human tradition, and caressed her when they were together.  And, as the fourth year of their activity commenced, Chance had an announcement.  As far as she could tell, with the growing bulge in her stomach which Jan had also noticed, she felt she was pregnant. Later that night Jan laughed.  ‘A father.  A freaking father.  Still, his own dad had been one, so perhaps it was not that unexpected.  And, looking to the heavens, thinking on that higher power, he grinned a little and gave a silent prayer of thanks.  Perhaps life was not so bad after all.  34 About 7 months after Chances announcement, with a Drongan maid to help deliver the child, Chance gave birth to their first child, a son.  They spent 3 weeks deliberating names until in a naming ceremony they named the child Kalan Rance Kolby, named after both their fathers.  Jan loved Kalan, a great deal.  He felt, often he saw his father or younger brother in his looks, and Chance commented that he was definitely of her own family.  As the child grew over the next two years, to Jan’s 35th birthday, it became apparent that Kalan was in the mould of his father.  Roguish but with a good heart. At four years of age Kalan would be excused from work till he turned 7, when he would be given minor duties.  Until then he was free, and wondered around the ground of the Jak’takr homestead often, the Drongan’s themselves unbothered by the young child.  Once he fell down the main well of the homestead, and Jan and Chance were up all night looking for him until Jan heard faint yelling coming from the well when he passed by it.  The child had trod water for hours, and was exhausted, but had survived clinging to the side of the well. After that, Chance was ever so careful with him, fretting over his every move, but Jan just said Kalan was a Kolby, and trouble would be expected.  But this did not dampen Chances concerns. And then came the announcement.  The Emporer would be visiting the Jak’takr homestead soon, to take part in the official four yearly new Drongan sporting games taking part in the city nearby the Jak’takr homestead that year.  This was the major sporting event for New Drongan, and the Emporer had decided to make the Jak’takr homestead his home while the games were being run. With that announcement Jan and Chance were informed that they would be kept very busy in the weeks ahead, and that Kalan needed to be kept under wraps. The Emporer arrived one sunny afternoon in the middle of summer, and despite the fuss made over him, he seemed a very down-to-earth and casual sort of a Drongan.  Very relaxed, it seemed, and in touch with his rulership. The Emporer liked the outdoors and Jan helped him often mount the steeds the homestead kept.  The Emporer began asking Jan questions about humanity and his origins, ever anxious to increase his knowledge, so he commented to Jan.  And during the three weeks before the games started, Jan, despite himself, found himself coming to like the man. And then the games started and the Emporer was kept busy each day, while Jan and Chance went about their daily routine.  35  In the fourth and final week of the planetary games, Jan was summoned by the Emporer to an event, a shooting event, on the outskirts of the city.  The competitors had been using something similar to the phaser Jan had owned, but Jan honestly felt that he could shoot more accurately than any of them.  And having commented as such to the Emporer, the Emporer decided to put him to the test.  When the event was over, the winner was brought forth and targets were set up.  Jan would compete with the victor in the best of three shots with a standard Drongan phaser, and a new winner would be declared. Jan found the phaser difficult to use at first and lost the first round.  The Emporer eyed him, but was interested still in the outcome.  And then, getting used to the phaser, his old dead eye returned, and he shot the next target from 300 metres directly in the centre – a bullseye.  He was lucky with the third shot, and then had been declared by all the winner. Being presented before the Emporer, the man looked at Jan and said ‘What prize could we possibly give a slave,’ to his entourage.  There were various comments and then, the Emporer stepping forward, looked at Jan.  ‘Jan Kolby.  You are a man’s man.  I grant you your freedom for your heroic display.  You and your consort are free to remain here in New Drongan, but may leave if you wish.  Well done brave warrior.’  Jan nodded, smiled and picking up the phaser walked over to the shooting ground.  ‘Freedom’ he thought to himself.  It was almost something he thought he would never taste again.  He had been on New Drongan for 7 years now and it had become his home.  To be free – to be free again to follow his own destiny – he was almost not sure what he would do with it. Later that day, when the Emporer excused him, giving him a letter with his official seal to present to his house, Jan returned home and presented the letter. And so, gathering Chance and Kalan and some possessions they had acquired, they made their way to the spacedock and, entering the ship they had been given and with a number of gold bars they had also been given, they took to the heavens. Chance, looking at the screen of New Drongan as it disappeared behind them, looked at her husband.  ‘Were to now, brave adventurer.’‘We will see.  We will see.  But I have an idea of our first port of call.’ And so, the Ravensclaw which had been returned to them, sped onwards, heading slowly for the centre of the galaxy.  36 Kalan looked at the screen and yelled ‘home’.  Chance smiled and Jan nodded to Kalan.  ‘Perhaps, son.  For a little while.’ On the screen in front of them, as Jan had informed Chance in the preceding weeks, was coming into view ‘New Terra’, humanities most prestigious centre of wealth and the current destination for the Kolby’s.  It was home to wealth – great wealth.  And, perhaps, in the fortunes of the Kolby’s, their ticket to a new and better life. The gold they had been given would feed them for a few years at a stretch, but Jan had let Chance know he had an idea in mind for gaining some wealth on New Terra and, if that failed, their final alternative. When the landed on New Terra and came to the home of Radnick Darkthorn, who was something of an uncle to Jan, not so much blood, but close to his father, Jan informed his family that Darkthorn may be able to help them out.  He was a wealthy businessman working for the corporation who owned New Terra and had been his father’s best friends in their early years. When they arrived Radnick welcomed them and, hearing their dilemma, asked Jan if he wanted to work a regular job and provide for his family that way.  He could find him work in the corporation if he was interested. Jan and Chance talked it over and thinking of Kalan and his future agreed to Radnick’s idea.  Radnick had just divorced, and while his children visited him often, he was presently living alone.  As such, and to help the Kolby’s start their new life, he suggested they live with him for a while.  The Kolby’s agreed to this and, after a few weeks settling in, Jan began his new work in the corporation. He started low, but when he turned 37, he had risen to a mid-level position in the corporation, mostly involved with imports to New Terra from other systems.  Jan could handle the work without too many difficulties and now that Kalan was in school it looked as if the bravest adventurer of all, the fabulous ‘Rimwalker’ had been domesticated.  This did not bother Chance, who enjoyed the settled and stable life of luxury on New Terra, but Jan had the itch in his genes and, finally, at 38 spoke privately with Chance. ‘The Sigmorius Crown!’ she exclaimed.  ‘You cannot be serious.  Do you know how much trouble chasing that thing got us into?’  He looked at her and smiled.  ‘Hey sweetheart.  What is life without a bit of adventure?’ And so, reluctantly, and having heard Jan’s plan, Chance agreed to follow him back to Draxon for one year at most in an attempt to reclaim the prize they had originally sought.  They felt it best to leave Kalan with Darkthorn, who had grown used to him, but Chance, who loved Jan and knew what he really was, needed to be with her husband and knew it no place for a child. And so, a few months after Jan turned 38, they took the Ravensclaw, full of provisions and began their trek.  Out to the rim again.  And back to the life of adventure.  37 Yelt Trandolin was anything but a typical Shadrachian.  Natives of Shadrach were, if anything, noteworthy for their sense of honour.  But Yelt was a different type of Shadrachian, one in the rogue class of Jan Kolby.  Yelt had worked in his younger years in security divisions of various galactic corporations and had risen to be one of the top workers in the field, especially with his acute mind.  But, when offered a contract by the league of piracy, he had slowly and inevitably turned to a life of crime, as dividends were so much higher. Jan had met him in his mid-twenties and they had struck up a friendship.  Jan’s work in those early years had been traditional bounty hunting and otherwise treasure seeking.  He had not really been a thief by trade, but ran in circles which encountered such characters.  And through someone who he had been bringing in on a bounty, he gained an introduction to Yelt Trandolin. It was Yelt, so Jan believed, who would be the key person to help him crack the security details on Draxon were the league would have stored the Sigmorius crown.  Yelt would undoubtedly give him insight and clues and, if he could be hired for the windfall when it arrived, he would go a long way to ensuring success. Chance found Yelt a smooth-mannered and polite Shadrachian and Yelt, despite Jan’s proclamation that he and Chance were attached, came onto Chance often.  Eventually Chance let Yelt know her and Jan were sort of married with a child and Yelt backed off.  But he remained charming and Chance found herself liking the fellow. The plan was this.  When they got back to Draxon, Yelt would hire a room in a hotel on the northern city on the continent of Draxon were the guild hall in which the crown was located.  He would monitor the complex and with the information that Jan could provide once he, hopefully, became re-established with the league, they would go from there.  Like Chance, Yelt gave Jan one year to finish the job.  Jan promised both of them that a year should be more than enough – but was worried anyway.  They would have to be careful, perhaps even more so than before, because their disappearance on the Ravensclaw would certainly be remembered and look suspicious.  But Jan felt, as bizarre as it may sound, a story something akin to the truth might just work.  Chance had pictures of Kalan, and using them as evidence, they might just re-enter league hierarchy without too many problems. And so, as the Ravensclaw drew closer to Draxon, the mood was good onboard that, if they were successful, the galaxies greatest riches would be theirs.   38 ‘Believe me Tarkan, it was hell.  If all those years under Drongan slavery taught me anything it was to value freedom.  And the freedom of the League of Piracy is what I missed most, so now I am back.’Tarkan eyed Jan Kolby, still a little suspicious, but when one of his drones handed a printout containing various details of the New Drongan Empire taken from their planet-wide data-network, Tarkan concluded that as bizarre as it sounded the story seemed to check out.‘And this Kalan,’ began Tarkan.  ‘Where is he?’‘With his uncle on New Terra.  And here are some photos,’ said Chance, handing Tarkan some photos of Kalan Kolby.Tarkan took them, looked them over for a minute or so and compared them to Jan and Chance before him.  After a while he spoke up.‘Yes, he does look like both of you.  And he is pale green skinned, indicating human and Arcturian parents.  So, I guess your story seems to check out.  We had concerns, you know.  From memory Shandray told me that he didn’t think you would have been able to break the tractor beam like you did and that some other party may have been involved.  So, considering that, yes, I guess you can have your guild places back.  But you will be again starting low – you’ll have to earn your place.’‘No probs,’ responded Jan.  ‘Tell me, can we have our old accommodation back?’‘Shouldn’t be a problem.  Actually, your stuff is probably still there.  We have a great number of places around the city which we only use occasionally.  Oh, and the Wolfklaw.  It is still in spacedock.  I felt you might want to know.  We have had no real use for it, but felt we would hold it for the time being.’Jan grinned.  The  Wolfklaw.  Now that brought back memories.‘Ok,’ said Tarkan.  ‘Settle in.  Get used to life here again.  Do those things you need to do.  We will assign you some work soon enough.  Oh, and finally, glad to see you back.  You always seemed a promising recruit.’Jan smiled, nodded and left, Chance following. Strangely enough it was still Dalok who accompanied them to their old apartment and, funnily enough, all of their belongings which they had not taken aboard the Black Terror were still there. Jan spent an afternoon out at the ‘Wolfklaw’, taking it for a successful short flight, and reminisced about old times.  It was good to fly her again. Settling back into life, Jan gained more information he needed and sent Yelt to live in Retak on the Northern most Draxon continent of Stuxal.  From reports Yelt sent him regularly, Jan found out that Yelt had made a number of surveys of the guild hall, analysed the diagrams Jan had managed to obtain carefully from his new connections in the guild, and had begun formulating a plan. After three months back on Draxon, with only Jan sent on a minor raiding mission which lasted one week, they were ready, so they felt, to go for it. Yelt had gotten all the information he could from Jan and from his own detective work about the interior set up of the guild.  It was really, now, a one man job.  If Jan, with his guild identity, could gain access to the guildhall and enter the interior of the building and then find some time alone, he may just successfully, with Yelt’s planning, claim the prize – if it was still there. They planned carefully, as carefully as they could and then got lucky.  On the second mission Jan was sent on they claimed another Imperial prize – a set of royal goblets from a star system which were deemed of great value.  So much so that they were ordered to Retak and Jan, as casually as he could, asked if he might join the party to Retak to simply visit the city as he had never been.  Tarkan seemed a little suspicious, but agreed nonetheless.  And so it was now or never.  To avoid suspicion, Chance would remain home, but when he could Jan would meet up with Yelt in Retak and then would get to their business.  39 With Dalok who had been assigned to transport the goblets to the guild hall, they got to the city and Jan asked if they could taste some local food before going to the guild hall.  Dalok was a bit reluctant, but agreed nevertheless.  They found a pub, and through Jan’s constant persuasions, stayed late into the day so that Dalok agreed to spend the night in the pub and visit the hall sober in the morning. During the night Jan met with Yelt.  They went over all the details both were aware of, confirming the exact layout as best they could of the hall.  The real key to success was the cloaking device which Yelt had supplied for Jan.  Theoretically, he really should not be visible, but rather a vague sort of shadowy light, which would not be immediately obvious.  If he got inside the guild hall with Dalok, and found some time alone, with the other tools available to him, he should be able to enter the main storage area and hopefully find his prize. The following day Dalok was hung-over and said they would spend the night at the guild hall.  Jan had been given a lucky break. The security, indeed, on the outskirts of the hall was incredibly tight, motion cameras and all sorts of other technology everywhere.  But, inside, no real problems.  There were the occasional guard stationed here and there but, for Jan, it seemed that if you actually got inside the hall you were assumed to be a league member and thus deemed no actual threat. That night, Dalok snoozing, he took to his long awaited task.  He still remembered what the crown looked like and if it was here and could be found, he would find it. He spent about 2 hours wearing the cloaking device, investigating the large complex until he came to large steel doors which seemed to be were the main goods of storage were held.  Strangely enough they were closed by simply a turning wheel and, turning it slowly, he opened the doors and closed them behind him.  And then, bingo. The room he found himself in, seemingly, housed every possible treasure known to galactic civilization.  Gold, jewellery, precious metals, currencies and artwork from all the major civilizations.  And various other important commodities seemed to be present.  He was almost persuaded to simply grab what looked most valuable and have done with it, but no.  The Sigmorius crown would likely be one of the most prized items. He glanced over the room and spied, right up the back a small hallway in the centre of the wall.  Walking over to it, his torch lit up, there were several drawers which, when opened, seemed to contain particular items which, perhaps, were deemed the most valuable of prizes.  After 10 minutes of searching through them he was about to give up when, suddenly, looking in a drawer he had already looked in just to re-check, he picked up an object which, looking at it, seemed very much like his prize. But it was covered in grime, as if it had been used a lot.  Spending a few minutes cleaning it off, and then looking at it in the light, he smiled.  Oh yeh.  It was the Sigmorius crown alright.  He had found his prize.  Praise the gods. Placing it in his satchel, and returning things the way they were as best he could, he retraced his steps and, upon returning to the sleeping Dalok, silently thanked the gods again.  Twice in one night – Chance would be pleased. He contacted Yelt on his mobile call-phone, confirmed the capture of the item, and laid in bed that night, happier, perhaps, than he had ever been. They spent much of the following day at the hall, talking about this and that, when finally, leaving, and Jan breathing a sigh of relief, started their journey back. When he got home he came to Chance, smiled, and pulled out the crown from his satchel.  ‘Sweetheart, we’re rich.  Bloody rich.’  Chance looked at the crown, grinned and hugged him.‘And now?’ she asked.‘Now, as carefully as we can, we ditch the league and head for Arcturia.  I have a long delayed appointment with certain royals.  And then, if the reward still holds, one Billion Arcturian credits, and a lifetimes wealth.’ Jan held the crown, grinning, and Chance again hugged him.  40 ‘Dak Bluddhook.  Now how the hell are you going, old pal.’Dak looked suspiciously at Jan Kolby.  ‘Back in town, huh.  Haven’t seen you in these parts for a while.  What brings you back?  And I thought you had joined the league?’‘Oh, yeh.  I joined the league.  However they released me recently for commendable service.  I am now retired.’Dak nodded, but still looked suspicious.  ‘So what brings you to Arcturia?’‘Oh, my partner.  She is Arcturian, and misses home.  You know how it is.  I dare say we won’t be here very long; just a bit of seeing her family and some sight-seeing.  We’ll be gone practically before you know it.’Dak nodded.  ‘So how is life with you Dak?’‘Oh, you know the life of a pirate.  It has its highs and lows.  But, truth to tell, the league has recently offered me a retirement as well, and I think now is the time to take it.  I am not getting any younger you know.’‘Ain’t that the truth.  Well it was good to see you Dak.  I am not surprised running into you here.  Figured you’d show up eventually.’‘Yeh. Where else, huh.’‘Well it was great seeing you, but I have business.  Catch you next time.’Dak nodded, and took another sip of his beer. Coming to the vehicle out in the port, Chance smiled at Jan.‘So you wanted to rub his nose in it, did you.’‘You know I couldn’t say anything.  The league would have tracked me down for sure.  I think they assume I just made off and left – sick of it.  Still, in New Terra I don’t think we will have to worry ever again about the League of Piracy.’‘Let’s hope so,’ responded Chance.  ‘And now can we go visit them?  You did promise.’‘No worries.’ Coming back to the ‘Wolfklaw’, which they had reclaimed, giving the Ravensclaw to Yelt, along with a substantial cut of gold from the Billion Arcturian credits they had claimed, Jan set course for the Ark.  In fact, meeting the royals, he managed to keep a long overdue promise and mention the Ark to them.  The ambassadors of the Royal family told them that it really wouldn’t be a problem for the residents of the Ark to return home now.  Times had changed.  The old ways had virtually disappeared.  They would be welcomed back. And so, arriving at the Ark, Chance reclaimed her old family friendships and, upon receiving the good news of their forgiveness, Landoria who was still alive agreed that the rebellious ones could now return home. They stayed on Arcturia until the Ark residents had settled back in, but Chance was now eager to see her son, and the Wolfklaw soon set sail for New Terra. The trip home was generally uneventful.  They played a lot of card games, Jan instructing Chance on the finer art of cheating and getting away with it, which Chance carefully observed, despite her religious scruples.  On board they were carrying a ship load full of gold and other gems, as well as various currencies common to the galaxy as well as details to some of their deposits in Arcturian banks.  They were now wealthy – extremely wealthy – and the galaxy was at their feet.  Whatever else, Chance felt her son Kalan’s future would be now well looked after. They arrived back in New Terra just shortly before Jan’s 39th birthday.  They had been gone about 9 months and, just before arriving, Chance shared with Jan the news that she was likely pregnant again.  Jan just smiled – could things really get any better. Kalan was overjoyed to see his parents, and both noted how he had grown so much in the short time.  He had been doing well at school and Darkthorn’s wife, who had returned to him, seemed to dote over him every possible second, almost like a child of her own. When Xadina was born, the Kolby’s second child, all seemed well in the world for Jan and Chance Kolby.  They had purchased a home near the Darkthorn’s and while Jan didn’t really need to work, Chance had encouraged him to do something, so he had been successful in gaining re-entry into his prior position. When he turned 40 Jan Kolby, the illustrious Rimwalker, was generally satisfied with life.  Things had gone well for him eventually, after many trials and tribulations, and with Chance in his arms one night, looking up at the stars, sipping on a beer, he asked, ‘What does the future hold, my dear?’‘God only knows,’ she responded.  ‘God only knows.’And Jan laughed.PART TWO ‘Darkthorn’s Shadow’ 1 At 41 Jan Kolby, the former illustrious ‘Rimwalker’ was settling down to a regular domestic type of lifestyle that most of his ancestors had been used to.  But, of course, the Kolby’s also had restless genes, prone to a reckless lifestyle on occasions and while Jan felt that he may have settled down in life somewhat to enjoy the good things, one day his son, bearing his own father’s name, the half Arcturian Kalan Rance Kolby, would inevitably seek out a grander type of lifestyle as befitted his name.  But of this Jan had little concerns.  Whatever befell Kalan in his own adventures, such was the stuff of legend making and stories to tell to grand-children.  And Jan honestly felt better a life of adventure with a tale to tell than always the safe ways of civilian life. His wife, Chance Kolby, formerly Chance Kibb’star, did not really share Jan’s sentiments, but realized as Kalan grew he really was his father’s son. At 8 Kalan had started school, proved popular, and was doing well in his studies.  Unlike his father who had struggled with school-work, Chance tutored him carefully, hopeful to ensure the best of legacies she could leave to the universe.  Kalan’s younger sister, Xadina, also seemed to be showing promise, and Kalan loved her devotedly.  The two of them were inseparable at times, even though Kalan played many tricks on his very young sister. The Kolby’s, with their vast wealth, had realized that riches did not always last forever, and Chance lectured Jan often on the importance of setting an example of work for reward to Kalan and Xadina.  It was important for her that the family, despite its vast blessing from recovering the Sigmorius Crown, be seen to be contributing to New Terran and galactic life and, for Chance, her legacy was important. That idea also struck Jan Kolby from time to time.  Leaving a mark – a legacy as it were.  A reputation behind him which would be talked about long after he had departed.  Perhaps such ideology which his Arcturian wife talked of was not really that fantastic but, rather, the most sure blessing he could leave to his descendants.  And, with that on his mind, the Rimwalker gradually made plans for the lives of his offspring to ensure his legacy would remain for years, even centuries to come. Yet, in all this planning, it was the hand of one of Jan Kolby’s closest confidantes, Radnick Darkthorn, which would place a most distinct shadow on the legacy of the Kolby’s – a most distinct and unbreakable legacy.  2 Sitting in Darkthorn’s office, Radnick excused himself for a while, having to check with his superior, the head of the corporation on New Terra.  Darkthorn, who was about 20 years older than Jan, had steadily risen in the Omega Corporation and was strongly tipped to be New Terra’s next Chief Officer.  Jan himself had risen again in the last few months and now worked often directly with Darkthorn in head office. He got up from his seat opposite Radnick’s desk and, coming around to sit in Radnick’s chair, he pretended for a while it was his own position.  And then, almost innocently, he noticed a file in an open drawer of Radnick’s, with the words ‘The Galagon Proposal’ written as the filename and, out of curiousities sake, to see what his friend was now working on, took the file out to take a look at it. Omega corporation was now, officially, the largest business corporation of the human confederation of planets.  Yet they did not only delve into business, but were often involved in things political and social as well.  Part of the driving mission statement of the organisation was the shaping of life for the furtherance of humanity and the wellbeing of all.  In this sense, it was almost a humanitarian organisation, despite being based on a sense of making a profit. For some Omega represented, almost, a way of life with its own rich and complex internal social realities and the rich rewards it imparted for lengthy service. Opening the file Jan read through the first page, an introduction to the ‘Galagon Proposal’.  Reading the proposal header, it was put together by the New Terran head office, with Radnick himself the main propagator of the document.  His name featured prominently throughout. He read the first page and, somewhat stunned at what he was reading, started on the second.  But then noise out in the offices signalled that Radnick seemed to be returning, so Jan quickly placed the file back were he found it, and returned to his seat. They chatted on for another few minutes but, as Jan left Radnick’s office, all he had on his mind was the ‘Galagon Proposal’ and the possible implication’s it would have.  And he made up his mind.  He would speak to Radnick – probably soon – and query just what had brought up this proposal and what purpose Omega had behind it.  3 ‘Galagon is a new way of life, Jan.  A new way of life for all of us.’‘How does humanity dominating the galaxy exactly represent new life for ALL of us.  Don’t you think there will be objections from the other sentient species.’‘Jan, Jan, Jan.  You underestimate us, you really do.  Our culture – our human culture – has always, in its own way, been set apart from the others.  I like to personally think that of all the intelligent species of life we represent the greatest example of what constitutes true decency and proper ethic.  But more than that.  The words I am using may sound strange but it is the most basic of words like ‘Regular’ and ‘Normal’ and ‘Everyday’ which constitutes the heart of humanity.  So unlike any other species, as I perceive it, we represent the most normal of species.  We are so well adapted to every day life and have prospered with our confederation because of it.  You know I have religious beliefs – I shared them with your father.  You see, long ago, Omega was founded by Christians – a uniting organisation of Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal – with a simple intent.  To bring the message of peace and the choseness of mankind amongst all the species of life in the universe as the holy people.’‘For fuck’s sake, you are kidding right.’ Stated Jan bluntly.‘No.  No I am not.  Jesus was human, in the end Jan.  He was a human being.  There were numerous species throughout the galaxy for him to become part of, but God chose us.  For whatever reason the son of the Almighty favoured the human race as his most beloved possession and prize.  I have investigated, in my time here in New Terra, into other cultures, especially into their religious beliefs.  And I do believe that many of them are inspired from God himself, often with Angelic visitation.  But, in all of them, I have never really quite found anything approaching the way God has dealt with humanity.  Never quite the same – never quite as chosen – never quite as important.  Our faith, our ancient faith, was bestowed upon us because in the words of ancient scripture humanity is made in the ‘Image of God’.  Us.  Humanity.  And not some other alien culture.’Jan nodded, taking in all that information.  Really he was thunderstruck.  Of all things he thought Galagon was based upon, he would never have surmised this.  Never in a lifetime of lifetimes would he have surmised this. ‘I don’t think I have ever really known you until right now, Radnick.  Not until right now.’‘You will come around, Jan.  It is inevitable.  It is in your God-grafted genes.  You will see the light.  If anything is true in life, it is just that.  You will see the light.’Jan nodded, looked at Radnick, and left the office. Driving home in his vehicle, his thoughts were all over the place.  Could he, now, really stay in the corporation.  To stay in something which, really, seemed so at odds with the galactic values and sense of racial equality that had become ingrained into his life, seemed impossible.  But, in all of this, something struck a nerve.  Something which Radnick had said, about humanities normalness which, despite everything in him which wanted to say no, he seemed to silently and passively agree with.  And it was that voice which, as the next few weeks passed, led Jan Kolby to further discussions with Radnick Darkthorn on the nature of Omega’s foundational beliefs and the ‘Galagon Proposal’.  4 It was while he was on holiday with Chance, thinking over Darkthorn’s many consoling words, that Jan reached something of a conclusion.  As Darkthorn had clearly expressed, all life, especially sentient life, was important to God.  All beings were his precious creation, so Darkthorn maintained, loved, cared for and valued.  And it was precisely because humanity, so Darkthorn claimed, had it in its heart of hearts to care about all of God’s creatures, that they were chosen for their role in galactic life.  And that role, so Darkthorn claimed, had been given first to Israel, then the Church and Islam and then, at the final revelation, to all humanity in the golden era of humanities birth into galactic civilization.  At that time God had awakened the prophets, so Darkthorn had explained, who had spoken many things to the church and the citizens of earth, explaining them their destiny of being a holy people and bringers of peace to the galaxy first, and then the entire universe.  And as Jan gave this idea more and more thought, and with the arguments Darkthorn presented about not being a superior people but instead a chosen people, that Jan allowed his heart to give something of a commitment to the idea.  ‘Someone has to be, Jan.  Why not us,’ was something Radnick had occasionally said to him. And then, knowing that humanity was simply chosen, and not superior, Jan reconciled the faith which was burgeoning in his heart, with his own particular love for Chance and his children and accepted the plans of Darkthorn and the Galagon proposal. The heart of the Galagon proposal was the unification of all galactic civilization around a core galactic council which, not surprisingly, was set to be established on New Terra itself.  It was planned that representatives of all the sentient life in the galaxy would come forth and take their role in the galactic council, with the prime directive of uniting the galaxy, bringing an end to all conflict, and establishing free movement of trade and migration.  And going a long way to establishing this was the introduction of the ‘Galaga’, the galactic currency to be established as official and tradeable throughout all the galaxy. In his proposal, the confederation ‘Dollar’ would be replaced by the superior ‘Galaga’ monetary system, which would be zealously promoted as the unifying currency for the inner systems of the galaxy first, and then, inevitably, spread outwards. ‘There is still so much political infighting amongst inner systems for territory and dominion,’ Darkthorn explained to Jan.  If we can unite them and deliver to them what they really want anyway, free movement and a more prosperous system for everyone, it will make a better galactic life and give us, ultimately, what we crave most of all.  Stability and peace.’ And, the more Darkthorn talked, and the more Jan listened, the more he was won to the idea.  So much so that, when the Omega Corporation headquarters on Earth wanted to hear a representative speak of the proposal, Radnick decided to send Jan himself.  Jan, so Radnick claimed, was such a more eloquent speaker, full of charisma, and deemed a better choice to win the corporation to what was supposedly part of their overall mission anyway. Jan accepted and has he turned 42, in a life which was turning from Rogue to Politician practically, he accompanied his wife on a scheduled space-cruise, Kalan and Xadina in tow, to the home of all humanity – planet Earth.  5 Funnily enough, the 65 year old Kalan Kolby senior, Jan’s father, was still alive and living in Australia on Earth.  Australia was a southern continent, hot in its interior originally, but which had long ago been greened through basic water piping networks from desalination plants on the coastline of the continent.  Jan had not run into Kalan since his mid twenties when he left for his life of adventure.  The last thing he heard from him was a letter, of all things, announcing that the Kolby’s had moved to Earth to live amongst the ancients, as his father had put it. The Kolby name, having been originally Colby, had had the letter ‘K’ change made by an ancient Australian ancestor, Jonathon Colby, so the family legend went.  As such, Jan’s father deemed them Australians as of last port of call, and thus Australia their native home. Jan’s mother, Francine, was also still living, and they now had grandchildren to Jan’s brother, who visited them from out in the galaxy from time to time. Arriving in Australia, heading for Canberra the capital, having docked at the spacedock in Sydney, they drove an old fashioned motor vehicle, solar powered, which also had automatic directional locators, but was allowed to be driven a little in the basic steering from those who could demonstrate the skill.  With all his experience Jan passed the basic driving test quite easily, and was allowed to drive, to a degree, the vehicle. They arrived in Tuggeranong, a middle district of Canberra, and using the maps they had been given, followed the address they had been given from a database in Sydney and found the place. It was, really, quite basic.  Similar in many ways to his home on New Terra, but not quite as lavish.  And the technology was a little behind New Terran technology, but that was not surprising given earth’s non-central galactic location. He and his dad chatted well into the evening, and his mother instantly fell in love with her two strange looking grand-children.  But their Arcturian blood only put her off momentarily, soon hugging and kissing them. Earth, these days, from what his father shared with him was an old and established type of society.  They were extremely traditional, earth based humans, and held to a quite rigid type of lifestyle based on established societal norms.  It seemed that so many of humanities outer planets were discovering themselves still, while Earth had discovered itself, and was in a process of reinforcing the conclusions on life it had gained.  They seemed to know what they were about, what they wanted out of life, and followed the traditional pathways which worked to achieve those goals.  They were ‘settled’ so his father told him. Jan found all of that quite interesting, and well into the night asked his father questions about Earth culture, something which he probably wouldn’t have been so curious to know about in younger years but which, now, seemingly had grown more important. This, though, was not surprising.  Jan was changing.  In a very real way, he was growing up, letting go of the last vestiges of roguish, irresponsible youth and becoming a man of society.  He was becoming something which he had once belittled but which, now, he understood was the type of person who was the ‘bread and butter’ so to speak of everyday life.  And in thinking these very thoughts, gave even more thought to the idea of ‘normality’ which Radnick Darkthorn spoke to him of. The Corporation had set no specific timeframe for Jan to be there, but was aware he was coming.  So he could take some time with his family for a while, and in fact decided to spend a whole year, adapting to life on earth to understand its culture more properly, before engaging in his dialogue.  Better to understand the mindset of those he was talking to rather than rush into anything too soon, he thought to himself.  And in those words, perhaps there was wisdom.  6 Jan sat in the crowd at Bruce Stadium, watching the home team, the Raiders, play the opposition, the Bulldogs, in a traditional Rugby League Football match.  Thinking over his father’s words on the sense of tradition associated with earth culture at the present time, Jan thought on the Rugby League match.  It was old now, Rugby League.  Over 2000 years old, a very established tradition.  And thinking over the yelling of the crowd and how they all went home or to the pubs satisfied with something to mull over, a home victory, Jan thought on how tradition itself played such an important role in human life. He was, even out walking the Rim, in a Galaxy with a new civilization to encounter every week, a son of humanity raised with values and ideals which had been bred into them for countless thousands of years.  And as each generation passed, its value system was shaped by those before them and attributed its own sense of morality and justice. And for those values which lasted:  for those ideals which had staying power and were affirmed time and time again, tradition arose.  Traditions, icons of normality, which society revolved around, which filled in the every day humdrum of human life. And on earth those traditions and the way of life, he could honestly say as his father affirmed, were so much greater than the new world of galactic life, in human civilizations which were, to a degree, still discovering themselves. But the human being itself, despite the societal circumstances it found itself in, rarely changed.  And as such all humans were commonly linked. He researched the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations back 2000 years ago.  The UN was still a functioning body on earth, used to co-ordinate international and intergalactic economic policy by and large these days, with most other social concerns now addressed and stabilised upon.  In the beginning of its mission, poverty, environmental concerns and social justice were a large part of its mission and taken very seriously.  But those issues had been addressed over time, and now mainly the ongoing maintenance of international economic policy and galactic economic policy was the concern of the body.  His father explained to him that in the late 2400s, before the advent of Earth into galactic civilization, the economic problem as it had been called had practically been solved.  But galactic life brought new concerns, and galactic economic management, given the scope of possible intergalactic commerce, would likely never be finalised or completed. And in that idea Jan saw an avenue of approach, a key part of his address, to deliver to Omega Corporation.  For earth, ultimately, the advantage of a stable galactic economy, which Galagon could ultimately ensure, surely had to be in their best interests.  It was one particular idea which would form a cornerstone of his presentation. That night, after the match, his son Kalan having quickly become a raiders fan, Jan was satisfied with the way his preparations were going.  He planned, now, to visit other social institutions on earth to, hopefully, even better prepare for his presentation.  In the words of his father, failure to prepare was preparation for failure.  7 Jan looked at the note in his hand.  A confederation dollar – standard currency throughout the human confederation and accepted everywhere.  The confederation dollar had not been born on earth, but developed in a number of outer confederation systems, gradually promoted everywhere.  And now, wherever humans were the dominant species on a planet, you could use the mighty dollar to purchase whatever you wished. It was made of plastic-like substance, security encoded to prevent copying, which was very rigidly maintained, and despite the more popular use of plascards to exchange banking details, the physical currency for convenience sake was still used often.  It was said that people often liked to handle something physical which they could trade with. In the Galagon Proposal, though, it was the ‘Galaga’ which was meant to replace the dollar and be ushered in as the galactic currency.  Ultimately, according to Darkthorn, the Galaga was necessary to replace the dollar for two main reasons.  Firstly, the human confederation dollar was precisely that – human confederation.  As a currency it had not been birthed to represent the galaxy and as such Darkthorn felt that other sentient species would be reluctant to adopt as a galactic currency a monetary system established primarily for one galactic culture.  Racism would prevent it.  As such a new monetary system was required.  And hence the second reason for the new currency, the new name, the ‘Galaga’ to more perfectly represent a galactic identity and galactic culture.  Galaga would be its human name but in Darkthorn’s proposal there was a large list of alternative names for alternative cultures.  Each culture, so the proposal went, would name it as they saw fit, but the idea of ‘Galaga’ as pertaining to ‘Galaxy’ it was felt would unite all.  And that word had been the basis for translation of the word into titles for all other international languages. Selling this idea to the corporation, Jan felt, would not be that difficult.  He was certain most would see the sense in a more universal title for the monetary system, as well as the fresh start such a new monetary system could bring. This also would form a key part of his address, alongside the idea of free trade as associated with the new currency.  Of course, incumbent with free trade were the ideas of free migration to encourage such trade and develop a more harmonious galactic life.  Which is were New Terra’s role in the Galagon proposal would be of such importance.  And thinking over the final aspects of his preparation, the formation of a galactic council and the role of humanity in galactic life, Jan began thinking on the most fundamental of all the ideologies that Darkthorn had proposed to him, and the real motivating reason behind the formation of ‘Galagon.’  8 Omega was housed on Earth.  And so was the UN.  Planning out further elements of his speech, Kalan felt some references to the formation of the United Nations and the establishment of an International Global Economic Culture would be the very best and most relevant concrete example to present to Omega for the parallel of a Galactic entity based on the very same principles.  And as the UN had worked so well in humanity and formed a key foundation for the harmonious functioning of international life, so the Galactic council, again formed by humanity on New Terra, could ideally bring such a sense of unity and peace to Galactic Civilization and life.  And to answer a key question, if the council has to be formed somewere, why not within human jurisdiction.  ‘It may as well be us’, in the words of Darkthorn. And then, the final part of the presentation:  the emphasis on Omega’s foundational mission statement, and the rationale for the birthing of Omega in the first place – the propagation of galactic peace and the role of humanity as a holy people in the furtherance of galactic life.  In the final part of his presentation, that ideology should tie together the whole and give the fundamental answers to the question of what possible basis could Omega and Humanity have in this affair. And, as the months passed, and Jan set a date for his presentation to Omega, he was satisfied that he was ready.  He was researched, understood what he was presenting, and motivated to do as such.  Hopefully, hopefully everything would go well.  Time would only tell.  9 Jan sat with his father, sipping on a beer, watching the sunset from their Tuggeranong terrace.  His mother was inside with Chance and the children, and his father Kalan had just finished barbecuing the meat and they were about to eat. Kalan spoke up.  ‘Son.  I want to say something.  Something, which, I don’t know.  Something I feel I have to say.  We Kolby’s have had a few personalities famous from time to time.  But son, I feel, perhaps, destiny has its hand on you.  What you will be presenting to Omega, if it goes ahead, could alter the very fabric of human and galactic life.  What might one day become a galactic empire, as it were, may very well be ushered in by your own powerful words.  And so, son, I want to say this.’  Kalan stood and put his hand on Jan’s shoulder.  ‘I am proud of you son.  Very proud.  You are a fine son, and a great Kolby.’Jan smiled at his dad, humbled by those words.‘I’ll do my best dad.’‘I couldn’t ask anything else.’‘Anyway,’ said Jan, changing the subject.  ‘Let’s eat.  That meat looks great.’  His father laughed and, taking the meat inside, they began their family meal. Jan thought on his father’s words and wondered, perhaps, just how prophetical they may be.  Just how famous would the illustrious Rimwalker, Jan Kolby, be one day?  Just how famous.  10 Jan looked at the board of Omega before him, as well as around a dozen other important parties which had come to hear the speech.  It had been talked about at certain official levels, and people were interested.  Surprisingly to Jan, very interested. Nervously, he took to the stand and, taking a sip of water, began. ‘Humanity.  Like grains of sand on the seashore.  We are many, almost beyond numbering.  But in this galactic civilization we are not alone.  For alongside the children of Adam and Eve there are around 1000 other intelligent species of life, all having mastered space-faring technology.  But, presently, this vast sprawl of galactic life is disconnected, and gets by on a basic social understanding of respect for other life-forms, common to most species.  But, I believe, we can do better.  Much better. Galagon is not, in truth, something new to humanity.  Our science fiction writers conceived of such ideas aeons ago.  But not only those great thinkers, but the heart of society, the political beast, also conceived of such unifying realities. Our United Nations was formed to, as the very name implies, unite a divided humanity, just shattered by international war.  It began slowly, but as time passed, and its inevitable importance became known to all, the UN altered the very face of human society and provided a world were all could live in safety, prosperity and justice. We human beings, made in the image of a holy God, made to be holy ourselves, undoubtedly have a further role to play in life rather than just creating a society for ourselves to happily live in.  We human beings can go further than that.  Like the UN, we can now, and must, create a sense of galactic civilization and order which can unite, not just humanity, but all galactic life.  This is the heart of Galagon. There will be obvious advantages.  One new monetary system to ensure simpler and easier imports and exports of galactic goods.  Free trade to allow all businesses new and old to compete fairly, without interventionist policies, creating a level playground.  And, of course, free migration through a monetary system which can allow people to travel and find working opportunities they might not have otherwise had available to them.  And what do these things bring but a sense of community – intergalactic community – in which, inevitably, through the sheer fact of the burgeoning intergalactic marketplace, or should I say rather, meeting-place – in which all life-forms learn of others and bring that prize valued higher than any other.  Peace.  Peace, an end to conflict, and a stable galactic economic society, in which all individuals, all races, can pursue life, liberty and justice, living in equality and sharing the goods of all planets for the good of all planets. Ultimately Galagon is a new way of life.  A new way of life for all, well beyond the rivalries and disputations of bygone eras.  A new way of life in which humanity, housing the new Galactic Council for the formation of Galactic constitutional, political and legal matters on New Terra, will usher in. This, citizens and friends of Omega, is our destiny.  It is a destiny we can not deny and must take hold of, with both hands, fulfilling the desires of our eternal father in heaven.’ Jan left off speaking, and after a few moments began handing out a more detailed initial ‘Galagon Proposition’ document, spelling out the various details and how the proposal would come into being.  They were silent for a while but, shortly, when someone began clapping, the whole audience followed suit and Jan Kolby, standing before them, felt he was at the beginning of a new world.  A brave new world.  11 Three weeks later, Jan heard the news.  The good news.  Omega, having reviewed the initial documents, and having reassessed their own mission statement as an organisation, had generally conceded that the ‘Galagon Proposal’ seemed to generally be in the organisations best interests, and part of its overall purpose foundationally speaking.  And so it was given the go ahead with full support, funding and direct influence through diplomatic mission to the council of the confederation.  Jan himself was asked wether he would like to be the chief speaker for Omega to the Confederation.  He gave it some thought and, eventually, seeing this really as his new role for the corporation, accepted. Winning Omega had been one thing.  With their centralization galactically speaking on New Terra they could practically go ahead with the idea regardless of confederation support.  But really, they would probably not ultimately succeed without confederation support. But, strangely enough, the confederation already knew.  They’d had diplomats at Jan’s speech and after a few months had sent delegates to New Terra to assist Omega in the initial work of the proposal.  They had wholeheartedly agreed, despite the religious influence that had put off certain members of the confederation council.  Jan knew, on that subject, to tread carefully in the future. The initial work, unsurprisingly, was simply the presentation of the idea through delegations to the 480 established inner galactic civilizations, or those members of what had often been referred to as Quadrant Zero – the inner galaxy.  This is were Galagon would begin. Jan himself was, alongside Darkthorn who had been promoted to head of Omega on New Terra, the main organiser of the work of the various delegations.  He attended endless training sessions on diplomacy and he himself met with around 70 of the prime inner representatives over the next 4 years of his life. This time of his life, later on, he referred to as the ‘Galagon years’.  They were the years in which he steadily turned from boy to man, he really felt.  He grew up in more ways than one, and gradually became one of the most influential people in inner galactic thought.  But not yet power.  That would come later.  That would come later when Galagon proved a success.  12 Karz Rezentay was an average sort of citizen of the Durian Conglomeration.  The Durian Conglomeration, which Galagon had knowledge of, had been dormant in practice of its goal for the last 1,000 years.  But they had been waiting.  Perhaps alike the dread Drongan’s in their own vision of galactic conquest, the Durian Conglomeration of 7 key Quadrant Zero powers, an alliance for the furtherance of each of their civilizations with the assistance of others within the alliance when necessary, had been waiting to one day further pursue their goal – the establishment of a Galactic Empire.  The key difference though between the Durian mission and Galagon was that, in the ultimate achievement of Empire for the Durians, war and genocide were ultimately deemed acceptable avenues of advancement for the creation of this Empire.  And, apart from that, it was deemed that the Galactic Emporer would come from the formative members of the Durian Conglomeration on a revolving basis. Jan, who had studied the Durian mission in detail, felt it was similar to Galagon in many ways.  But, perhaps very much like the old human empires, it was driven to completion of its objectives in ways which had ceased to be deemed civilized.  And as such, by Jan and proponents of Galagon, viewed as an outdated system of Empire, best left to a bygone era and now forgotten about. But the Durian did not feel that way.  And Karz Rezentay, an old champion of the Conglomeration, saw in this human threat a way of life which was ultimately not in the best interests of the eventually all conquering Duria. And Karz knew his man.  He knew Jan Kolby was the chief proponent around Galagon.  Galagon, an idea that all the inner civilizations now new about and were contemplating, was a threat to Duria.  And Galagon and Jan Kolby would have to be dealt with.  In a most decisive way.  13 When Jan turned 47 his son, Kalan, had been 15 for three months.  And all that time he had been pestering his father to allow him out alone on a flight on the Wolfklaw.  Jan had been reluctant for a while but, when Kalan earned his provisional licence for grade one spacecraft, the Wolfklaw coming under such a category, Jan gave him permission.  On the first few flights he flew with Jan, but soon Jan let him go solo and even allowed him to take along his 9 year old sister Xadina. One hot morning Kalan persuaded Xadina to accompany him for a planetary orbit.  The two of the arrived at the spaceport, were granted clearance, and took to the skies. However, sitting in space, slowly going through planetary orbit, the Wolfklaw was come upon by another ship, and taken hostage.  Kalan had a phaser with him, and when the door blew open, almost felt like firing but thought better of it.  They may kill him in return, and he couldn’t risk the life of his sister. Later on, when Jan received the news of the kidnapping, Chance blamed him for letting Kalan fly solo.  And said she would never forgive him because of Xadina being onboard, something which Jan should have put a stop to. They were anxious, but no ransom letter came in three whole weeks.  New Terran security assured them to be patient:  the letter would come.  But Jan was growing tired and had almost decided to handle the matter himself, when a letter did come.  And a letter with a very basic message.  It read: ‘Galagon.  See to it that it fails.  See to it that it most definitely fails, or find your children’s bodily parts in the mail on regular occurrences.’ It was a graphic letter, brief, but to the point.  And when Jan showed it to Chance, she started wailing, which really was not that surprising. Jan took himself off of the Galagon project, but try as he might, and despite the influence he had, the lives of his children were not enough to dissuade others to forego the project which had started gathering steam. And so when they received, delivered in a tiny box, a finger which looked like it was a child’s finger, Chance was a wreck.  Fortunately DNA results demonstrated it couldn’t have been a child of theirs, which reassured Jan that the kidnappers had convictions.  In fact, the finger itself seemed to have been genetically engineered, and was not from a living child. Ultimately Jan reached a conclusion.  To rescue his children he would have to act himself.  The illustrious Rimwalker would have to chase down the culprits and free his own children.  The time for others to do so had come and gone.  Now it was up to Jan.  And there was not one second to waste.  14 He began with the note sent from the captors.  Unsurprisingly, it was of the Durian confederation in origin.  All along Jan had suspected them due to the ruffled feathers the Durians had displayed in all dialogue so far on the implementation of Galagon.  He had his man, he knew it.  But proving it would be difficult.  Of course, his children could be anywhere, and it was unlikely that they would be returned out of any sense of decency.  Ultimately, for Jan Kolby, when he had done his best to trace the origin of the note to a source, which could have been any of a number of Durian planets, finding his children from there was not a reality. He now had two options.  Somehow, someway, defeat Galagon.  But, conceding that unlikely, the other was to try somehow to persuade the Durian that Galagon, really, was in their best interests.  And in the end, that seemed like the only realistic alternative left to Jan Kolby. It would be tough, and demand his full attention, but with research and a good deal of diplomatic persuasion on the merits of Galagon, perhaps, just perhaps, his objectives could be achieved.  15 Karz looked at the item on the screen, forwarded from some of the hierarchy in the Durian mission.  The word ‘Duria’ denoted a region of space inhabited by a number of sentient life-forms.  The Durian conglomerate was a union of 7 of these species and their empires, for the furtherance of each.  While little action had taken place in the life of the Conglomerate towards its stated mission goals in the last thousand years, it was still a functioning body with an annual review given to member dominions.  Karz himself was a high ranking member in the Conglomerate, dedicated to its existence and achieving its ultimate aims. Ultimately, it was not that he really disdained Galagon.  He likewise appreciated its principles and the goal it had set itself.  It was not that he didn’t appreciate Galagon: it was more that he though the Conglomerate was more in his own personal best interests. However, when Jan Kolby, the man they had aimed at to defeat the human agenda, came a calling, with the mission of winning the Durian to the ideals of Galagon, Karz had laughed at first, but decided to listen to what he had to say anyway.  Operatives of his had Kolby’s children hidden, locked up on a space station circling a Durian planet.  They were being raised there and, in the plan of Karz, inevitably returned to the Kolby’s in a few years.  It had been a ruse, really.  A scare tactic, with the aim of hopefully destroying Galagon.  But he knew, really, it had been unlikely to work.  And Kolby’s children would have been returned to him one day regardless. So, ever loyal to his beloved conglomeration, Karz Rezentay decided to meet the man who had been influential in bringing to light his most feared reality – a competing empire. 16 In the months since the disappearance of her children Chance had gone from overwrought mother, to a parent with a growing sense of grief at children she felt she may never see again.  And in spite of Jan’s constant assurances that their children would be back in her arms to hug one day, and one day soon, Chance would not be consoled. As he prepared for his major talk with representatives of Duria, Jan knew he would need to speak with passion and conviction.  Really, lateral thinking was now what was called for.  Not the usual tactical approach, but something which would emphasize just how Galagon could really be appreciated by Duria, and not seen as a threat to their own Empire.  And in a the spirit of compromise, Jan saw an approach which he felt just might work. He met with one and only one representative from Duria, but it was told him this was the only one he would need to convince.  And sitting with Karz Rezentay, in a Durian pub, watching a sporting match in the smoke filled bar, Jan tried the best idea he had. ‘Karz.  Can I call you Karz?’The Durian nodded.‘Well Karz, I want to say something.  Something which may give you new light on our situation.  Galagon, ultimately, was proposed for the best interests of all galactic life.  While it serves humanity, our motivation in its proposal was not for ourselves alone, but for the good of all.  We want peace.  More than anything else we want a stable galactic peace, which can benefit all societies.  But, in forming Galagon, we are not trying to do away with established dominions.  We are not trying to destroy those things civilizations have already built.  It is, rather, a way of uniting these civilizations.  Bringing them together in a cause which is ultimately in each of their own best interests, and which is only intended to benefit them.  What I am saying is that Galagon does not threaten Duria or the Conglomeration.  We know what you are about.  We know your mandate.  Most inner systems do.  But we are not concerned with that.  In fact, in a funny kind of way, we welcome the impetus for building Empire.  For establishing order and a civilization for the benefit of more than just one society.  And the conglomeration does that well.  Believe me, Galagon will not try and destroy what Duria has already achieved.’ Karz nodded, indicating that point was important to him. ‘You see, Galagon, in its own way, can really assist Duria even further in its own objectives.  With a single galactic currency, for example, the conglomeration of Duria will be even more powerfully placed as one of the stronger galactic powers to pursue commerce and industry through free trade on a far more competitive basis than it might have previously.  And the economic blessing to Duria because of it will be far greater than its functioning independently.  But, really, I could go on all day about the benefits of Galagon.  Instead I want to stress this very vital point.  Galagon will not oppose the expansionist plans of Duria.  It is not in our mandate to dictate to sovereign states their actions of building their own dominion.  What we seek is where each sovereign state agrees on their own merit to the ideas and visions of Galagon, and they way such ideals can benefit them personally.  Ultimately Galagon will not harm Duria:  it will only help.’ Jan finished.  There were other things he could say, points he could stress about the non-threatening position of Galagon towards Duria, but he felt he had said enough.  Really, he needed Karz’s response at this point. Karz looked at him, took a bit of the fish in front of him, and turned to the match.  After a while he spoke up. ‘A way of life.  A way of life we have known for so long is not easily abandoned.  Dreams can be made by ancestors, with hopes for the future.  And those dreams can often be passionately held to, and not easily given up.  But I have heard you.  I have heard what you have to say on Galagon, and how you stressed its non-threatening aspect.  I will say this to you, Jan Kolby.  If you can show me concrete evidence in the formative doctrines of Galagon; if you can clearly demonstrate to me that Galagon, as it grows, will keep its mandate of impartiality, then Duria will consider your position.  As you say, ultimately, it may be in our best interests to join.  So we will let you have your say for now.’ Jan nodded, pleased.  Quite pleased.  It seemed, from this response, he had been somewhat successful.  And perhaps, because of this, he may see his children soon.  He just prayed and hoped they were still all together, ok and in good health. Later that day, Karz contacted his colleagues and arranged for the release of the Kolby children.  Whatever else, Galagon now did not seem to really be the threat they had perhaps perceived.  It did not, really, seem as if they wanted more than a Galactic council for managing galactic commerce.  As such, it could even benefit Duria to belong to it.  So, when he had the plans of Galagon from Kolby on hand, and had studied the sufficiently, he would now assent to it going ahead.  For now it seemed acceptable.  17 Chance was overcome with tears having her children safely back in her arms.  She wept on them for nearly 20 minutes before Jan said enough.  They were safe.  Thank the One they were safe. Later that night Chance forgave Jan.  Really, her husband now was involved in Galactic affairs.  Extremely official galactic affairs, and as such her family would inevitably come under galactic scrutiny and possible threat from time to time.  Really, it would be something she would simply have to accept and learn to live with.  She might not like it, but she knew she could not keep her husband from his destiny. They celebrated that evening, and Jan quizzed his children about their captors, but they didn’t know much more than Jan had already suspected.  The description seemed to fit Durians, but they likely could not prove it.  But now, with possible Durian acquiescence to Galagon, it may be wiser to simply let the matter drop.  To let it drop and be forgotten.  Too many problems otherwise. And now, the ongoing propagation of the Galagon proposal.  They were now, after 4 years of solid effort, starting to receive feedback from inner systems, and while there were a few negative voices, mostly from those who suggested that they house the council themselves, Jan had becoming increasingly surprised at the widely held respect for humanities proposal.  Most civilizations, as Galagon was intended to be, generally saw it in their own best interests to have a council for dialogue, and were happy enough having humanity house the council, seeing as they had done the work in promoting Galagon in the first place.  Such comments as ‘you have proposed it.  You will likely follow through with it to see it successful,’ were forthcoming, indicating that it was a job for humanity the galaxy had no objections to them undertaking.  And because of that, Jan often felt that perhaps Darkthorn had known more than he was saying. And, as he turned 50, when 400 of the 480 inner galactic civilizations had generally assented to the implementation of Galagon, it was starting to become no longer an issue of will this work, but when do we start. There were issues to resolve:  countless issues, really.  But problem resolution for such a large scale project was an inevitable reality of life.  Still, answers to those problems would be found and when Omega made it known to the informal Galagon community, which had been instituted by a simple act of Omega and New Terra with the formation of an official office to represent the new Galactic community, that the building of the Galactic council community buildings and Assembly hall, on the outskirts of the planetary capital city of New Terra was now going ahead, it seemed as if Darkthorn’s dream was slowly and inevitably becoming a reality.  And as it passed from vision to actualization, the role of Jan Kolby in the whole affair was steadily being driven towards a call to power he most surely did not really expect or dream of.  18 Jan looked at the massive concrete foundation.  In over 3 square kilometres the foundation, in parts, had been laid down.  The complex was, indeed, massive.  But the offices of Galagon were visionary.  They knew they were not just building a monument for even one united planet, but a united galaxy.  And as such, the scope was vast.  Omega had vast funds available, and had committed to funding the project solo.  But in a gentle inquiry out to Galagon members to ask if any would like to voluntarily contribute to the project, every member obliged with some finances, and some of them quite substantially.  Galagon had caught on.  It had undoubtedly caught on. The next 4 years, till Kolby’s 54th birthday, saw the continued building of the Assembly hall and other facilities, until one fateful day it was deemed it complete.  During those years Galagon had been solidifying as a concept, and was being readily and anxiously looked forward to by member states.  They had not yet, though, gone further outwards.  They had not yet approached the remainder of the galaxy, but focused on stabilising on quadrant zero to sure up support before trying for the big game.  But, fortunately, quadrant zero housed nearly half of the sentient species of galactic civilization, and winning them was the job half done. When his son, Kalan, turned 20 the project was complete.  The physical infrastructure to house Galagon was all done and now all that awaited was the inaugural first assembly.  And that was scheduled, now, for a few months after Jan’s 55th birthday. Galactic representatives had already by and large been chosen by the various member bodies, and even early discussions and pre-inauguration assemblies had taken place, of various sizes, by differing civilizations.  The idea, really, had been a winner.   Jan looked at the complete complex from a distance, with his wife Chance standing next to him.  ‘Dare to dream, hey love.’‘And here I thought you would never be anything but a rogue.’And Jan laughed. Work went on, everyone in Omega on New Terra anxiously looking forward to inauguration day.  And with a little time on his hand, with so much being handled by the office staff and routine work having been delegated outwards, Jan found the time to get to something he had been thinking of for a while.  An autobiography, in a way, of his involvement with the formation of the Galagon proposal.  Darkthorn had stated quite bluntly that such a work would undoubtedly be in huge demand, and in even a very short time, and best to write when his memory was fresh with the events of the past decade. And so, Jan Kolby sat down, sitting at his personal computer and typing the traditional way, instead of voice communicator or brain-electro monitoring device to read his thoughts, Jan began his work.  19 Galagon: The Dream By Jan Sebastian Kolby  Introduction “I think, perhaps before I say anything else about the implementation of the Galagon dream, I would speak of something which underpins the whole idea of Galactic civilization and unity.  So many of us are familiar with basic philosophical concepts about organisational behaviour and the social, cultural and political constructs we put together to express our desires, ultimately, for unity.  Yet, perhaps, no other goal for such a basic drive, extremely common in the formation of human societies amongst others, can be more highly epitomized than when societies on large scale, especially with diverse and even contradictory social realities, unite together to form an organisation or body of unity which is, ultimately, in the best interests of all.  And for all of us here and now, perhaps apart from the very infinite universe itself, which begs question of ever really being applicable, there can be no other realization of this vision as grand and as epic than the realization of galactic unity. One Galaxy.  Almost, in a sense, if Galagon is ultimately successful, one nation, in which the good of all is the whole basis for being, will go further than any other social construct intelligent life can create and be, for all of us, that highest of altruistic epitomes of perfection that we can truly, ever, obtain. Galagon is like nothing else before and likely like nothing else yet to be.  If successful:  WHEN successful, Galagon will change galactic life, not for a handful of centuries, but, perhaps, for all time to come. Galagon is the future.  A future to be grasped, held on to, and run with, with all the vigour, passion and commitment that sentient life and civilization can possibly muster.” Jan left off writing.  That was the introduction, short but vitally to the point.  And it read pleasingly well.  He stopped typing and decided, for now, to let his thoughts gather in his head overnight.  Tomorrow he would write again and, slowly, gradually, put together his slice of Galagon history from the past decade or so of his life.  20 Fortunately, he finished his autobiography on Galagon about three months prior to the inauguration of the Assembly.  It was released, first to the hierarchy of Galagon member states in an advanced print format and then, with official release in various electronic and print formats, to the wider and general public. Unsurprisingly, as Darkthorn had stated it would, it sold extremely well, a bestseller within weeks, and he was on talk-shows all over New Terra, and even on a dozen or so of the other Galagon member states. In this time people learnt the name of Jan Kolby and identified him, inevitably, with Galagon and the new Galactic Council.  He became, at that time, a household word throughout New Terra and much of the Galagon community and it was this very fame, and the charismatic personality which accompanied it, that brought Jan Kolby, in a short period of time, from mere political emissary of the Omega Corporation to the highest of heights of civilized galactic life. Late one afternoon, sitting with Kalan drinking a beer, Jan reflected on his life and encouraged his son to pursue his own dreams.  Hopefully, as far as Jan Kolby was concerned, the son of the illustrious Rimwalker would one day chart out his own adventure and legacy.  One which would be remembered and talked about, perhaps, for centuries or millennia afterwards.  Or, perhaps, such was the dream.  Such was the dream. PART THREE ‘Call to Power’ 1 Galagon.  An idea, now a reality.  The inaugural meeting of the Galactic Council, anticipated for many years, fortunately went over without any real complications.  It seemed for this particular endeavour there had come to it a spirit of maturity and professionalism – one in which member bodies were almost displaying the best of them as a witness of sorts – which guided the opening day of discussions. The first point of order was ratification of the official mission statement for the council, one which they had long discussed in pre-assembly deliberations.  The official mission statement read as such: ‘We, the citizens and peoples of this Galaxy, known by many names but officially titled ‘The Milky Way’ in honour of humanities formation of the Galactic Council through the avenue of the ‘Galagon Proposal’, do hereby come together in a spirit of unity and togetherness for the purpose of uniting this Galaxy in a bond of peace, friendliness and law.  The Galactic council we hereby form has the purpose of establishing a threefold mission:1 – Peace2 – Economic and Social Unity and Stability 3 – Justice, Law and its enforcementOn a Galaxy wide basis.’ The mission statement was voted on and accepted, with no dissents.  Deemed unanimous it was thus accepted. From the mission statement was derived the notion of forming a constitution which then set out the basic parameters of how the mission statement would be implemented, setting out positions of authority, rights and responsibilities of body members, and the various divisions of legal and economic matters which the council would assent to make judgement upon. The constitution itself, as it probably should, took 3 years to come to a finalised position and, when finally voted upon, was passed with 95% support.  The agreed upon majority position of 60% to pass matters saw it get up, and thus became the first official Galactic constitution.  In many ways, despite its complexity, it was implemented with the purpose of being as brief and simple as possible, primarily to allow it to be a flexible working document and practical in its application.  It would be the body of legislation following the constitution which would set out the legal aspects of the Galactic Council and those matters which member bodies would agree to. Naturally, a key principle of the constitution was the notion of sovereignty of member states.  If they disagreed with legislation voted upon in the assembly, they had the right to submit alternative legislation pertaining to themselves and how they would relate on the particular subject at stake to other member bodies.  Everyone knew this would inevitably make a more complex system, but that was deemed inevitable.  Organising 480 intelligent civilizations under one banner would never be an easy thing. Still, despite the many problems in the formation of the constitution and the early legislation of the council, it went ahead and provided a better memorandum of understanding between body members on how to relate to each other and achieve economic and social prosperity.  2 When Jan turned 58 the council turned to the implementation of its laws in a more concrete manner.  Incumbent within the constitution was the provision for an intergalactic law enforcement agency.  An agency which recognized sovereign member rights, but worked in harmony with those laws on a galactic basis.  The proposed name for this agency was ‘Allegiance’, intending that it would portray allegiance to the principles of Galactic unity and justice, and the name given for each member of Allegiance would be a ‘Lawkeeper’. Allegiance was headquartered, alongside the Galactic Council, on New Terra.  It was stationed, in fact, not far from the Council Assembly hall. Each member body of the 480 members of the Galactic Council was responsible for providing members to Allegiance, and a presence was required on each civilized planet of the council nations. They were tentative in the first few months, reluctant to get overly involved in galactic affairs, but gradually Allegiance Lawkeepers were called upon to duty and throughout the inner Galaxy they were soon called ‘Space Cops’. It seemed most member bodies appreciated a unified galactic approach to law enforcement, as this provided an avenue for extradition of rogue criminals and a more uniform approach to crime throughout the inner galaxy, creating unity in thinking on this issue. Allegiance soon became quite popular in galactic thinking and, in general, it was readily accepted. Their scope of responsibility grew ever-increasingly as more acts of legislation were passed through the council, giving Allegiance greater degrees of authority.  And through this process one thing began to happen, which had initially been feared would upset member bodies.  The council started becoming viewed as an authoritative galactic body, with the right to make galactic law and have it enforced by Allegiance.  This had not been the intention, though, with the formation of the council.  The council had been very sensitive about member rights straight from the beginning. But the average every day citizen of the inner galaxy preferred, it seemed, a greater authority watching over them than just their planetary civilization.  It seemed the idea of a Galactic community had been forming very quickly, and the council and Allegiance were regarded very strongly as the legal authority of the community.  And while the member body officials had been reluctant to push the council in that direction, it seemed it was what everyone really wanted anyway. And so, as time passed, Allegiance became more and more official and more and more respected, viewed as the real force of galactic law by most.  3 ‘So you want to join Allegiance?’‘I think so.  I have been considering it for months now.  I mean, working for Omega is ok, but the Galagon department has largely been superseded by the Galactic Council itself, and Omega’s role has diminished greatly.  All that we really do is administer security for the Assembly grounds and run maintenance.  We no longer have any real official role.  I mean, you are kept busy enough with that, but I need something more, dad.  And I think Allegiance might just provide that for me.’Jan nodded, understanding shown on his face at his son’s words.  Radnick Darkthorn himself had been nominated and now served as the chief representative from humanity on the council.  The confederation had agreed that as he had proposed Galagon it was suitable for himself to serve as the first chief representative of humanity on the council.  Jan, at this time, remained in Omega working on Galagon’s administrative responsibilities, but what his son did not know was the Darkthorn had been suggesting to him to come into direct work in the Galactic council as his chief secretary and co-council member.  And Jan had accepted the position and would soon start.  Omega had been good, but Galagon was his life now, and that propelled him inevitably into council life.  In fact, the way he had been treated by most representatives on the council it was as if he himself was a representative, even though not so officially. But his son, Kalan, had no real responsibilities apart from his basic work in Omega on the Galagon administrative project.  And Jan could see his son yearned for more.  And Allegiance, with the potential excitement it could offer him, given his reckless Kolby genes, seemed to be the best avenue for him, and Jan likewise agreed. ‘I think it is a great idea, son.  You have my blessing.’‘Thanks Dad.  That means a lot to me.  I will do you proud in Allegiance.  I promise you.’Jan nodded.  In a funny way, this wasn’t that unexpected.  Kalan was a man now, and wanted to prove himself.  Perhaps he looked up to his father and saw just how well he had risen through life, and perhaps that spurred him on to show himself also a man.  But, for Jan, that was ok.  Kalan would prove himself.  He would undoubtedly do that.  And as a member of Allegiance, Jan felt his son would bring further honour to the name of Kolby.  4 At 58, becoming the chief secretary for Radnick Darkthorn, humanities representative on the Galactic Council, was an honour Jan revelled in.  It was, like his formative work in Galagon, exciting times to once again be in the heart of galactic commerce.  And then Darkthorn suddenly died of cancer complications, complications which he had not spoken to Jan about, and humanity was left searching for a new representative.  Jan alone was nominated, the confederation extremely happy to have him as their man on the council. Jan took up his duties and, now in the real prime of his life, which due to the very advanced state of quality of food and health on New Terra and throughout much of the human confederation, was considered being middle-aged at 58.  He still felt very fit, exercised regularly, and looked good for his age.  At this stage he expected to live to around the regular age for the elder generation of around 130 to 140 years.  But of course, 198 was still the record age of a human being, being set 400 years previously.  To some, Jan was still young, but he felt incredibly experienced in his 58 years. Yet, while 58 may be young to many, it was deemed sufficient experience for the honour bestowed upon him within one year of his appointment.  It had been proposed by a number of bodies that the Galactic Council needed a chief.  A head – a chief representative – an overseer – with various powers to act as the primary spokesman and guiding voice for galactic affairs. Jan was humbled when he was nominated.  3 other names had been proposed but, due to his increasing popularity amongst member bodies, and the general good reputation he had for being such a key voice in the formation of Galagon, Jan won the final vote by a large margin. And suddenly, the illustrious Rimwalker, who in his youth had often had to pinch pennies practically to get by, was head of a Galactic council which ruled nearly half the galactic civilizations.  Jan Kolby had, indeed, come a long way.  5 Jan sat with Chance in their new apartment, overlooking the Galactic Assembly grounds, on the edge of Televere, New Terra’s capital city.  The apartments had been just finished in construction, made available to representatives of the galactic council on a rationed basis, and unsurprisingly all had been claimed.  Jan felt, with his new and greater responsibilities, living right near the Assembly hall and his office would be the best idea, and Chance had no objections. He was now 60, and had served 2 years of the 4 year term as Overseer of the council.  The work was a new position and in many ways Jan was charting out its responsibilities.  It was exciting work, always demanding, and Jan’s knowledge of law and economics had been put to the test.  Fortunately, having just completed his doctorate in political science from Televere’s main university, Jan had a sufficient enough education into the insight of Galactic affairs, which he had majored in, to guide him through his everyday work. He had a 7 man personal security detail appointed to him for his office.  It was deemed of such great importance, becoming viewed as the highest political office in the Galaxy that his safety was of utmost importance.  In fact, death threats had become ever increasing, more so than his early days when Galagon was new to the inner galaxy. His apartment, after a number of modifications, was apparently bomb-proof and it was often difficult doing what he wanted to do because of security concerns.  But such, he realized, was public life as the highest galactic official. Chance was often called into the limelight and appeared on many of the New Terran talk-shows, like Jan, and was expected to dress with glamour and sophistication.  Although Chance was generally a reserved sort of individual, she generally now liked the attention, having gotten used to it, and was always out shopping for the latest clothes.  When she had a personal designer appointed to her by someone in his office, Jan felt it might, perhaps, be going too far, but he was confidently assured that his position warranted it. In fact, as the first term of his office approached culmination, that position had grown increasingly lavish and was now deemed by New Terran culture, and many others, as the position to seek in life.  ‘Rule the Galaxy’, so it was often said. When his first term came to an end, he was nominated again.  It was claimed by a number of members that his work was of sufficient quality, and his growing reputation which was upholding the importance of the council, that another term in the position seemed to be in the best interests of the council.  He was thus nominated again and retained the position unopposed. And, as his second term began, Jan began to realize that in a life which, almost, had not had a great ambition for success, it had been lived in such a way that it had almost been led by a power beyond him.  Call it destiny, call it fate, Jan felt that his life was, perhaps, in the very hands of the great power which was known by humanity commonly as ‘God’ and that he was simply doing the will of God in his life, rather than a life of his own choosing.  And, concluding that this seemed to be the case, Jan came to a stronger faith in ‘The One’ as his wife called him, and began attending an Arcturian temple which had been recently established in Televere dedicated to the higher power.  In fact, Chance and members of her family from Arcturia who had emigrated to New Terra were the chief proponents of the temple, but while it served Arcturian interests, it was also non-denominational in attempting to present an almost universal perspective on the higher power.  Jan found the sermons of the Arcturian preacher strangely potent – he was a gifted speaker and spoke to the heart of his audience.  He reflected values, common values, almost ones which the council itself promulgated, and Jan Kolby, son of humanity, found himself content in life and with the universe.  Things made sense, now.  Things made sense.  God was in heaven, he was doing God’s work, and the galaxy went about its everyday humdrum existence.  Life was good, concluded Jan Kolby.  Life was good.  6 ‘Yes sir.  Right away.’‘Dismissed.’Kalan turned, and made his way off to the task at hand, a word of caution to one of the other members of New Terran Allegiance stationed in Televere.  Kalan worked in Internal Protocol Affairs for the Allegiance, headed over the New Terran Allegiance posts.  He was now high up in Allegiance, heaving been promoted quickly mainly because of the connection with his father.  But, nevertheless, Kalan worked well and was widely respected and recognized. Internal Protocol Affairs, or IPA, was the police-dog over Allegiance members themselves.  Its primary aim was to fight corruption and ensure a lawful spirit permeated the agency of the Lawkeepers.  Lawkeepers were carefully chosen.  Not everyone who applied for membership was successful, and they seemed to have not too much difficulty filling membership at this early stage in Allegiance’s history. Kalan’s ambition, much like many around him, was to one day head New Terran Allegiance.  New Terran Allegiance, itself, was separate from the Galactic body called Allegiance General, which was mainly an administrative body, but which also had a strong IPA element, which was responsible for administering the Allegiance network on a galactic basis.  With his connections to the council, his father had suggested that working for Allegiance General might be in Kalan’s best interests, but Kalan felt working the real work of the organisation, on a planetary based body, was his calling.  But, with time, he had grown to see his father’s wisdom and was now considering a position which had been recently offered to him by Allegiance general, an offer arranged by his father without Kalan’s knowledge. Kalan, presently, was undecided.  IPA work seemed to be what he was best suited for and almost expected of in many ways.  It was important to many New Terran’s that the first family set an example in galactic ethics and conduct, and it was deemed by many that Kalan’s position in IPA within Allegiance was the best position for him.  And Kalan grew to understand that, following in his father’s footsteps, the position likewise suited his nature.  And so, concluding that, he was considering the IPA position in Allegiance general, and would likely accept it within the next few weeks. Still, for now, he had work to do and observing the command from his superior, went in search of the officer who needed cautioning on a particular subject matter.  7 Xenon was a regular member of the Galactic council.  Their civilization spread over 78 colonized planetary bodies which were settled, 5,600 star systems and numerous dead planets, many of which were mined. It was by no means a large civilization, given the vast amount of star systems in the inner quadrant, but it was important to galactic life nevertheless.  So much so that when the chief prince of the royal family of the Xenon civilization went missing, presumed kidnapped by the League of Piracy, and the Xenonian member of the Galactic council requested Jan Kolby’s own son, being a Kolby, to handle the matter, Jan approved.  So despite his position in IPA in Allegiance General which he had just accepted, Kalan was appointed to head the Allegiance task force assigned to recovering the prince. Kalan enjoyed meeting Xenon’s Allegiance operatives.  Xenon Allegiance was actually one of the most sophisticated of all Allegiance networks running through the inner quadrant.  Generally speaking, after meeting Galactic council mandates for the powers and jurisdiction of member body Allegiance agencies, each civilization was then left to its own devices in how many members they supplied to Allegiance and how they organized themselves.  The Xenonian’s, it seemed, took great pride in their part in galactic life, and had heavily contributed to their Allegiance agency, being very efficient, highly managed, and well respected.  It was Xenon’s official galactic law enforcement agency, and was viewed with great favour by an adoring Xenonian public. Kalan was well received and as the Task force began its work, with Xenon supplying all the known details, it became apparent to Kalan that it was likely indeed the League of Piracy of quadrant three who had kidnapped the prince.  And due to his father’s extensive knowledge of League of Piracy politics and inner workings Kalan decided it may be in his best interests to seek his father’s assistance when and were he could.  But not for now.  He would first follow the logical courses of action and do his best himself to track down the prince.  He would call on his father when he needed to – IF he needed to. The investigation seemed promising at first.  They traced what they suspected were the likely manoeuvrings of the ship involved on a merry chase through the third quadrant.  But then it disappeared and no sign seemed to be found of it on Draxon itself, were Kalan had been sure they would take the Prince. They’d had a number of sightings of the Prince confirmed, he seemingly being not too closely guarded by the League, free to walk around with a few of the pirates guarding him.  This is what most of the witnesses they found on various planets confirmed.  And that puzzled Kalan.  Could it be that the prince was accompanying them voluntarily?  Was he faking his own kidnapping?  It was indeed a mystery. However, when the ship disappeared from their searches, Kalan had no option left but to seek his father’s advice.  Perhaps he could help him in some way.  Whatever else, it couldn’t hurt.  8 ‘It’s a curly one son, and I am not sure how I can really help you.  You have followed general procedure by the looks of it, but it may simply be a case of the ship either being destroyed or gone astray in deep space.  Perhaps they are stranded and waiting rescue.  Hell, there are a million possibilities and it is a bloody large galaxy.’Kalan nodded.  It was something he had guessed himself.‘And what of the Prince carousing around with pirates, seemingly without a care in the world?’‘In my experience son, this is a funny kind of galaxy at times, and league members can be the most unpredictable of sorts.  They might not really care that much about the Prince’s security.  Maybe the kidnapping was a grudge between the League and Xenon for some reason, and they are just getting payback.  Or maybe the Prince has just befriended his captors.  He is a Prince and might have a smooth tongue.  But, again, there are a million possibilities.’‘Yes, I know,’ said Kalan, scratching his head.  ‘But what the hell should I do next.  Just monitor the situation and hope for the best?  Xenon will be hardly pleased with that.’Jan looked at him, considering that point, and considering his own responsibility in safekeeping galactic order as Overseer of the council.  And so an idea came to him, which he felt he might as well share with his son. ‘I do have an idea, Kalan.  I do have an idea.’‘And what is that?’ his son asked, looking at him anxiously.‘Well, aeons ago I was faced with a dilemma involving the league.  It was regarding a certain crown.  A certain Arcturian crown.  Your mother may have mentioned the story.’Kalan grinned at the reference to the source of the family’s fortune.‘Well, the league had the crown, and I needed to infiltrate the league to get it back.  And I came up with one solution.  One bold idea which was the only thing I could think would work.  So perhaps you should try that.  You never know, it might just work.’ Kalan looked at his father, a little surprised, but acknowledging the idea.  Whatever else, joining the League of Piracy to recover a Xenonian prince would be a story to tell the grandchildren.  Whatever else it would be that.  9 ‘Kalan Kolby, huh?  Any relation to Jan Kolby?’‘Who?’ asked Kalan, feigning innocence.‘Never mind.  So what makes you think you will be an asset to the League of Piracy.  We don’t take just any joker who shows up.  Credentials, lad.  What are your credentials?’Kalan thought fast.  ‘I have contacts on the darker side of inner galactic life.  You ask, I can deliver.  Just name your price.’Tarkan nodded.  He was used to various claims, but this one he would put to the test.  ‘Very well.  If you are so very gifted, we have a task for you.  Steal an Allegiance space ship.  We could use one for various missions.  But an official one, mind you.  No fakes – we will see right through them.’‘How long have I got?’‘Two weeks.’‘I’ll be back in one.’Tarkan looked at him, nodding to himself.  If this Kalan Kolby could indeed return with an Allegiance ship in one week, he would make an undoubtable asset for the League.‘Get to it, Kalan Kolby.  I’ll be waiting.’ Due to anxiousness Kalan was tempted to bring in the ship, the easiest thing to arrange, within 5 days, but decided, for suspicions sake, to wait the week.  But on the seventh day, coming into Tarkan’s office, they sped over to the space-docks and Tarkan looked over the impressive looking Allegiance ship.‘For fuck’s sake, it’s the genuine article,’ he said to himself a number of times. He looked at Kalan, grinning, and said, ‘I don’t know how the hell you got this done.  Allegiance ships are not exactly easy to come by, but you have got it done.  So if you are this good, Kalan Kolby, the League of piracy could hardly do without you.  You’re in.’Kalan nodded, satisfied.  His first objective was now achieved, and he had been lucky with how he achieved.  Somehow he doubted he would have it so easy next time.‘What next, Tarkan?’‘For now we move you into an apartment block.  We have several in this city.  In fact, I have a particular one in mind.  One used by a certain Jan Kolby.  Ever heard of him?’‘You asked me that already.  But, yeh, thinking about it, the name now rings a bell.  Sits on the Quadrant Zero galactic council, doesn’t he?‘That’s the one.  He used to be a member of the League, which is something we have over him, should we ever be in a delicate situation with the council.  But that is irrelevant to you.  I will put you in his old apartment.  He used to share it with his wife.  I think they even have some of their old belongings there.  Feel free to throw them out if you want.’‘Will do,’ responded Kalan, quite interested to see were his parents once lived.‘Anyway,’ continued Tarkan.  ‘We will notify you of your first mission in due course.  Dalok will instruct you in what you need to know about the league.  He handles most of that work.  And we will be watching you, closely.  You are untested, so we will be cautious.  But you seem like the perfect recruit, Kalan Kolby.’Kalan nodded.  ‘This could be the beginning of a wonderful partnership, Tarkan.  I am sure of it.’‘We’ll see,’ responded Tarkan.  ‘We’ll see.  10 Kalan sat in his apartment, the harlot he had hired was still asleep in the bedroom.  In many ways, Kalan Kolby was his father’s son, and prostitution was not totally unknown to the Kolby’s.  Still, unlike his father who had been quite promiscuous in his twenties and early thirties before he had met Chance, Kalan only occasionally visited a lady to gain that most intoxicating of comforts. He was sitting, watching on one of the Draxian visual entertainment shows a debate on the future of Draxian civilization.  The bane, so many claimed, was the League of Piracy, which although its fronts were official business, were seen as an ongoing menace to Draxon’s reputation.  They were a warrior-type of people, the Draxian’s, in many ways.  But they were also a civilized people, and desired a better reputation amongst the other galactic civilizations.  The main problem, then, as many saw it, was the League of Piracy which was stationed on Draxon.  Much of the debated involved how it should be dealt with, with the government representative maintaining the current status quo in how the league was currently handled, but the other heated debater, from a Draxian good works charity, heatedly arguing that the government needed to do more.  Kalan was finding the debate intriguing, but could sense the mood in Draxon himself on the subject.  The league, unofficially, brought vast wealth to the planet, and many knew they were in a better situation because of it.  And, despite the illegality of the situation, didn’t really want it changed.  And so Kalan concluded they were indeed civilized, but happy to work on the darker side of the law. He had been on two missions for the League in the past three months.  One, a standard raiding mission further inwards in the galaxy, and another, a bodyguard for some league dealings with the Tekra, who were in the process of uniting with the League of piracy.  Kalan had been assigned, along with Dalok, the personal protection of Tarkan who was the main league representative in the discussions.  And they had proven fruitful, with the merger set to go ahead. Dalok mentioned, in passing, what Kalan had joined the league for.  The location of the Xenonian prince, who was not so much being held hostage, even though he was technically, but someone who had befriended the league and sworn to help it when he came to power as monarch over Xenon.  They would become the chief post of the League in the inner quadrant, so the prince had assured the league, and Dalok had told Kalan. This led to a dilemma for Kalan.  He could now still rescue the prince, but should he in fact really bother?  Perhaps it would be best to simply report the situation and let Xenon handle it from here.  It was now no longer as clean cut as a standard kidnapping – other factors were involved. But, having given it some thought, he would contact the prince, and let him decide.  It was the best solution Kalan had come up with, and a way to finish his job. The harlot yelled out to him to come and get some love and, switching off the  visual, taking a sip of Draxian beer, he got up and went off to satisfy his desires.  11 Kalan tracked down Prince Ga’hazon in the northern city of Retak at the guild headquarters.  He got in without too much trouble when he showed his guild id, and found the prince in the main eating hall, playing an electronic wall console game.  The prince was in his early twenties for a Xenonian, and when Kalan asked him if he wanted to go back home to Xenon, the prince just shrugged.‘I don’t know.  Maybe.  I like it here, now.  And the league and myself have plans for the future.  But, yeh, I guess now is a good as time to any to leave.’The Prince, with Kalan following, made his way to the office of the head of the guild and, upon entering, announced he was now leaving for home.  The Draxian looked at him, nodded knowingly, and said, ‘Don’t forget our arrangement.  We will make good on it one day.’‘I won’t,’ replied the prince.  He turned to Kalan.  ‘Ok.  Let’s go home.’They made there way out of the compound and were not even asked questions, which Kalan now took to understand that the Prince had been a voluntary guest for quite a while.  It was the arrangement he had with the League which, now, was keeping them together.  But the Prince had to return home sometime and Kalan had been the cog in the system which would arrange that. As the Wolfklaw sped away from Draxon, Kalan could not help but think he had been a pawn in a game which he should never have played in the first place.  Yet his inside knowledge, now, of the Prince’s new allegiances would prove useful information.  He would let his father know and, he assumed, Xenon would be watched more closely in the future.  At least they had advanced notice of this Princes apparent loyalties. The trip home was generally uneventful, the Prince though insisting they stop at various planets for him to get to know the third quadrant, which Kalan had no great objections to.  As they travelled, slowly heading for quadrant zero, and the United Galaxy, as it had slowly been becoming known as, Kalan thought of his life.  He thought of the work he would soon be getting back to in Allegiance general and, despite the perhaps mixed result in the mission he had just been on, he began to see why his father perhaps had had the hunger for his life on the Rim in his early years.  There was an appeal to the way of life of being an adventurer.  Of having a new danger to face every day, and a new planet to call home every now and then.  It was life on the edge and for Kalan, who had known something of adventure from his upbringing, it was now something which had stung him with its appeal – something which he was not sure he could now let go of. And so, when he got home, he would take up his position again in Allegiance, but he would give private thought to spicing up his life in a way his father had done in his own early years.  12 Kalan was awarded the highest medal of honour in the Xenonian Empire, the Star of the Order of Xen, the Xenonian’s chief deity. His father and mother and sister attended the ceremony, and clapped loudly when the presentation was made.  Kalan grinned, happy enough at the award, but silently regretting ever getting involved.  He had spoken with his father about the situation with the Prince and his father had reacted, while maturely as given his age, but also with a sense of concern.  The league, so his father explained to him, was widespread throughout the third quadrant, and even had bases now in the other quadrants.  If it were to gain Xenon as an ally in its ever expansive operations, it could prove to be a thorn in the flesh for the United Galaxy.  While Xenon as a power was not great, the presence of the League within an important area of space in the central quadrant could prove a bane to the Galactic council for years to come.  It was, so Jan maintained, vitally important that the league never in fact set up operations on Xenon and he assured his son he would look into this matter, personally. Still, for now, Kalan was a hero and enjoyed the limelight for the while. It was about a month later, at a meeting of the council, that Xenon did something quite unexpected.  So pleased had the Monarch of the Xenonian empire been with Kalan’s success in returning his son, that he proposed that like Xenon and so many other galactic civilizations, the Galaxy itself have a royal family to represent its ideals.  And they nominated the Kolby’s to represent the Galactic Council and the inner Galaxy as that royal family. At first Jan was not really sure what to make of the offer, but assumed other galactic council members would be uninterested.  However, surprisingly, the concept as presented by Xenon proved a popular idea and when a motion was forwarded for making Jan’s overseersmanship permanent, in the role of a Royal family and watchmen over the council, Jan did not object.  If that is what they wanted, he was now used to the high life and would not mind it continuing. The motion was voted on and passed with 77% approval.  Most members agreed with the idea, and the Kolby’s had been deemed suitable. And so the call to power in the life of Jan Kolby rose to its highest point and, although it really seemed more of a title than anything official, Jan had become something approaching the Emporer or King of the Galaxy. A Crown was prepared and a coronation ceremony took place, shown all over the inner galaxy.  Most were happy enough with the Kolby’s, knowing them well enough now, and a figurehead royal family, with limited political powers, did not seem to bother the majority of the United Galaxy citizenship. It was the pinnacle of life for Jan Kolby, and he was silently grateful to the One for the position he had brought him to in life.  13 As overseer, Jan had been fussed over.  But that increased manifold as Emperor of the United Galaxy, his official title.  His duties now changed.  There was a new overseer appointed over the Galactic Council, who Jan had the power to dismiss.  He also had the power to veto legislation.  They were his real political powers.  But he had a great deal of other responsibilities, mainly his work of promoting the Galactic Council and serving as a representative of ethical and lawful behaviour as the head of the royal family.  They were now expected to be the most of upright citizens by most citizens of the inner galaxy which Jan found challenging given his early behaviours in life, but which over the years he had found himself gradually conforming to anyway.  His position, in reality, was that of a figurehead meant to represent the ideals of civilized galactic life.  The power itself was not great, but the prestige was enormous. The Kolby’s traveled to many star systems in their new role.  In fact, 80% of the New Terran year they were away touring other systems, promoting the Galactic Council and the idea of the United Galaxy.  They were always well received, despite the odd protest from planets here and there.  Some were not that fond of the idea of a Royal Family, which seemed to be contradictory in their minds to the ideas Galagon first represented.  But wherever the Kolby’s went he stressed the idea that his responsibilities really were more of a figurehead in power, aimed at promoting the values of galactic peace and unity.  It may have involved the trappings of prestige of the royal way of life, but he assured all the substance of his role was the promotion of galactic ideology.  He was not merely an Emperor dictating his own dictatorial will on the galaxy.  In fact, far from it he assured all those planets he visited.  It was a royal family with a real and important role and, so he claimed, the family served the galaxy just as much as others served them. Those ideas seemed to gradually permeate the citizens of the United Galaxy, and the entity of the royal family, it was surmised, would suffice as the chief proponents of united galactic life. His privileges were, naturally, quite great.  He received an ample salary from the council, one it was deemed necessary to show the importance of their role in galactic life.  The Kolby’s themselves had their own fortune from the reward for the Sigmorius Crown, but the income they now received made them only that more wealthy.  Jan himself had always been cautious about the wealth.  If they ever gained a reputation for living too lavishly, too decadently, they would slowly grow despised.  It was how revolutions of the past came to be.  And because of that reality Jan was careful with the company he kept and the lifestyle he maintained.  In all things he tried to ensure that the Royal family was being responsible in its position, setting an example of lawfulness and proper ethics and morality. And, as time past, that effort of Jan’s became noted and talked about and the institution of the Royal family became generally accepted. It was a good life, Jan felt, and he really wouldn’t have traded it.  And as the years passed, he grew content with his lot in life.  14 Like her husband, Chance Kolby had slowly been growing accustomed to the high life.  Thinking back to her youth she remembered, at times, fantasizing on board the ark about living in lush palaces and keeping company with people of noble birth.  Of course, Landoria would have rebuked her should she have ever spoken as such, but her own parents had been more accepting and tolerant than the strict matriarch who had ruled their community. Her mother now lived also in Televere, desiring to be close to her, as well as her younger brother and his family.  Her father had died a few years back, and while she missed him, she had grown used to much of her life without him being there ever since teaming up with Jan. Her mother was seen as almost royalty herself now and appeared on the various talk-show’s from time to time, as did all the Kolby’s.  Recently their had been a special organised by one of the major visuals network, focusing on the life of Chance Kolby.  Cameras had followed her around for three weeks as she went through her various engagements, and there were sessions in which she was asked personal and often intimate questions.  In her reserved nature she brushed aside many of these questions, but did give some glimpse into the private lives of the Kolby’s. But, unlike her husband who was often quizzed on policy and the responsibilities of being head of the galaxy, most took an interest in the fashion life of Chance Kolby, rather than any specific social or political thing she might have to say. She was now the patron and head of so many charities that she had simply lost count of them all.  Of course the Kolby’s gave to all of them, and were highly admired due to this.  But such donations came from their ever-growing vast wealth, and they were never really short of funds themselves. It was a life Chance had grown used to and really did not want to part with it in any way.  She thought back, once, all those years ago.  Standing inside the welfare office on Arcturia, looking at the woman signalling her and suddenly making her decision to go with Jan.  It had been a sudden decision, which had grabbed her, but she wanted to run with destiny.  To take hold of life and see the possibilities it could give her.  And for that, Jan Kolby, the illustrious Rimwalker, had seen like the opportunity she simply could not refuse.  And now she found it difficult to comprehend just how fortunate she had been to take that bold step and find herself now, in many ways, queen of the galaxy. It was a life of glamour, prestige and perfection for Chance Kibb’star, all grown up.  And, really, she could not count herself more fortunate.  15 While Kalan still held a position in Allegiance General in the Internal Protocol Affairs section, it was only now on a casual basis, as most of his time was spent with his father and on his new duties.  Kalan was seen as the heir-apparent to Jan and when his father passed on it was now expected that Kalan would step into the role his father undertook.  This did not bother Kalan Kolby.  Not really.  He was used to life on New Terra and being a Royal definitely did have its advantages.  But often he thought back to conclusions he had made when returning the Xenonian Prince and how, after resuming work in Allegiance General for a while, he would go off and seek a life of adventure.  Now, in his responsibilities as Jan son and heir-apparent, that did not seem realistic anymore.  His father, although gently, seemed to be trying to mould Kalan towards taking on the position after him and it seemed that was now the general assumption most people made.  And Kalan himself also made that assumption even though part of him perhaps desired otherwise. His younger sister Xadina, though, was ever so happy as a royal.  She took to the position even more passionately than her mother, and particularly related to the younger audience.  Much of the gossip on the various New Terran talk-show’s was about who Xadina had been seen with at the latest party and what gentleman would be lucky enough to snare the fabulous Ms Kolby.  And, by most standards, she was quite beautiful, her pale-green skin in many ways seemingly enhancing the exoticness of the beauty she radiated. Both of the Kolby children, really, were happy enough with their lives.  They had come from humble beginnings to a life of extreme wealth and from their to great responsibility.  It had been something neither had really been prepared for, but each in their own way had taken it on board and run with it.  Xadina, perhaps being the younger, had adapted more to the lifestyle than her older brother, but in the end both of them were now galactic royalty and were enjoying and appreciating the lifestyle which went along with it. And, as Jan turned 70, and the Kolby’s started becoming an icon throughout the United Galaxy, the Kolby children began to understand that whatever their own personal views, thoughts and feelings, they were now, in a way, the property of the general public of the United Galaxy and were a victim to the expectations of trillions upon trillions of United Galaxy citizens.  It was a great life, a fabulous one in many ways, and the Kolby children both sensed that they had indeed been fortunate, coming to a position that no others, apart from the greatest royal families of the larger galactic civilizations, could really appreciate.  16 ‘Ladies and Gentlemen.  Honoured guests and officials.  May I present to you the United Galaxies Royal family.’As the host of the official event left off speaking, the Kolby family descended the staircase, to the applause of those gathered at the event. They were now quite used to such applauses and such events.  For over a decade they had been treated as such, and it was almost what they now regularly expected. The night was the usual affair.  Introductory speeches, dinner and dance. Later on Kalan and Xadina, after having danced with many of the important children of various esteemed officials, took themselves out to an outer section of the palace they were in, looking over the nightlife of the city before them. ‘So this is it, huh?’ said Kalan to his sister Xadina.‘What do you mean?’ replied Xadina.‘This is life.  This is what we get.’‘And what is wrong with that,’ she asked, coming up to him and putting her arm in his.‘Nothing, I guess.  I mean I am happy enough.  The lifestyle we have is great.  First class.  I suppose I couldn’t really wish for anything more.’‘I sense a ‘but’ coming,’ responded Xadina.Kalan smiled.  His sister knew him well.‘As I said this lifestyle is great, BUT.’  Xadina smiled and Kalan grinned.‘BUT, I don’t know.  Sometimes I get itchy feet.  Sometimes I wish we were living like we used to.  On the edge, you know.  Like mum and dad used to when they first met.  Shooting around the galaxy here and there.  Not a care in the world.  The galaxy their doorstep to adventure.  Sometimes I wish we could have that kind of life.  Becoming ‘Rimwalkers’ like dad.  I mean, wouldn’t that be great, Xadina?  Wouldn’t that be exciting?’‘And miss Andre’s recipes.  You must be kidding, right?’Andre was the Royal family’s chief cook.  A famous French cook from Earth, employed for the highest position in the galaxy.Kalan continued.  ‘I know you and your belly will find it difficult to be parted from such fine food for long, but wouldn’t you rather not know what happens next?  Not to life a life so, you know, predictable?’‘Hey, I like predictable.  It pays the bills for one thing.  And we are the Prince and Princess of the Universe, Kal.’‘The Galaxy, you mean.’‘Close enough.’Kalan stared out at the city, taking a sip of champagne.‘But don’t you want a thrill out of life?  To taste danger in a way you just won’t at the moment?’Xadina looked at him for a moment, sensed his seriousness, and softened.  ‘And just how would you achieve this adventure, dear brother?’‘Take the Wolfklaw, some gold for expenses, and head out to the rim.  And just wander.  For some years just wander, and see were life takes us.’Xadina nodded.  He was just like daddy in this way.  Just like daddy.  And deciding that her love for her brother was, really, an important thing, made up her mind.‘If you go, I will come to.  I will join you on your mad quest for glory.  But remember, plenty of gold.  I like my luxuries, dear brother.’Kalan grinned.  ‘As you wish.’They continued staring out at the city for some time, and in his heart Kalan was pleased.  He really had already made up his mind, but to have Xadina coming along had been his strong wish.  Two always made company. ‘So will you tell dad, or will I?’ Xadina asked.‘I’ll tell him.  But not for a little while.  I want to make some plans first.  But soon, soon we tell him.  And then off we go.’Xadina nodded.  Whatever else it would be a life of adventure.  Whatever else it would be that.  17 ‘You want to what!’  Jan’s voice had the slightest degree of incredulousity in it.‘Borrow the Wolfklaw for a few years.  But, you know.  I will return it eventually.’Jan grinned.  His son was definitely a Kolby.‘And were exactly will you take her, dare I ask?’‘Oh, you know.  Usual places.  I might actually go and visit Arcturia for a while.  See the relatives we have there.  But, mostly dad, I thought I would take up your old occupation.  Bounty hunting on the Rim.  Follow in the footsteps of the famous ‘Rimwalker’, you know.  Live the life.’Jan chuckled.  His son was perhaps naïve in that respect.‘It wasn’t all adventure, you know.  I went hungry from time to time and had to subsist on decade old ship rations.  If it wasn’t for the fact that the Wolfklaw is solar powered, I may have never gotten anywhere.’‘Well you needn’t worry.  Xadina and I plan on taking plenty of gold for food and other supplies.  Really, it is the thrill of it that we want.  To taste life to its fullness.’‘Xadina!  My God, you aren’t taking your sister are  you?’‘I persuaded her.  Hey, I will need the company, and I don’t think you would be willing to tag along for old times sake.’‘Unlikely, son.  Gah!  And I had been breeding you to take over from me one day.  You will need a good reputation for that, you know.  Not one of a renegade louse, carousing wherever he wants, sleeping around, getting drunk and into trouble.  That is not the example the United Galaxy wants or needs.’‘As I recall it, you seemed to follow such wild ways for much of your youth.  A bit hypocritical, don’t you think?’‘Be that as it may, I was not planning on becoming Galactic Emperor.  On the other hand, you have no such excuse.  You have been born into a family which, while it did not seek greatness, has had greatness thrust onto it.  And as such you have responsibilities, Kalan.  Great responsibilities.’‘Responsibilities I didn’t ask for!’ objected Jan Kolby’s son.‘Yes, I know.  I know.’  He stroked his hair back over his head, a frustrated look on his face.‘Well, alright son, alright.  You have made your case.  I guess I can afford you to take a few years away from the limelight.  But promise me you will be back within a decade.  I don’t think the Galactic Council will tolerate much more than that.’Kalan nodded.  A decade suited him fine.  It would give him all the opportunities for adventure that he could perhaps ever want.‘Thanks dad,’ he said, putting his arms around his old man, hugging him.Jan put his hand on his son’s head, and patted it gently.‘Just promise me you will not get into too much trouble.  If I have to bail you out of a situation, I don’t think my reputation will ever live it down.’‘I promise.’‘And for God’s sake, look after your sister.  You know how she is.  She will likely follow you into anything madly.  She is not always the most sensible of girls.  So you will have to keep a level head.’‘I will.  And don’t worry about Xadina.  I’ll take care of her.’‘I hope so.’ They chatted on for a while, Kalan explaining that Arcturia would likely be first port of call, but also thinking he would take on work as a bounty hunter for the experience.  He craved, so he told his father, a reputation like his dad’s.  For in Kalan’s mind it was the adventurous life of his father’s past which really appealed to many people, even if it was not explicitly stated.  And for himself to be accepted as Emperor he might just have to have a similar legacy of his own. And so, with his father’s blessing, he let Xadina know, and they gathered some gold and planned to take off in the Wolfklaw on the first day of the New Year.  It was a life of adventure waiting for both of them, one which Kalan Rance Kolby looked forward to greatly.  18 ‘Home.  We are really home, aren’t we,’ commented Xadina to her brother.  ‘I guess so.  But I suppose Earth is just as much our home as well.  We have two, really.’‘I often wonder about what dad told me once.  About his theory that Arcturian’s and Humans are in some way related.  Perhaps it is a big galactic or universal mystery.’‘Or the wonders of genetics,’ replied her brother sarcastically.‘Very funny.  Well, were to first?’‘I have a contact from dad.  Someone he told me to look up.  Works in the temple of Daranok.  Dak Bluddhook, who is apparently the League of Piracy’s main man on Arcturia.  Apparently if I am looking for some action, Dak can point me in the right direction.’‘I thought we were after legitimate work as bounty hunters?  How exactly will a space pirate help with that?’‘Oh, Dak has connections to various underworld figures.  Dad reckoned it would be in my best interests to make contacts in underworld to familiarise myself with how they do business.  It’s a dangerous universe, and a Galactic emperor needs to be not only politically wise but streetwise as well, even if that means learning from the lowest of dogs.’‘I see,’ replied his sister.  So where is this temple?’Kalan typed in some search locations onto the onboard computer of the vehicle they were travelling and finding the temple, programmed in the co-ordinates. Half an hour later they were outside the temple of Daranok.‘Well, here we go,’ said Kalan.’ *   *   *   *   * ‘So you are looking for bounty hunting work, on the darker side of the law as you put it?  And what makes you think I can help you?’‘My dad is Jan Kolby.  He said you would know him.’‘Jan Kolby.  That old dog.  But for fuck’s sake, the last I heard he was not the Galactic Emporer of the inner galaxy.  And you’re his son, are you?’‘Kalan Rance Kolby at your service.  And this is my sister, Xadina.’Jan glanced at her and instantly noted the similarity to Chance.‘Yeh, she looks just like her mother.  And the green skin is a dead giveaway.  So ok, you are legit.  Tell you what, Kalan Kolby.  I have some friends who are always looking to get even with this and that old friend of theirs.  If you cut me 10 – no, make it 20% of your pay, I will give you some contact details which will bring you a tidy reward.’Kalan nodded.  ‘Sounds good.  Were do I find them?’ Dak gave Kalan some details and Kalan farewelled him, heading off.  As he watched him go Dak gave some thought to the name and just realized that he was an ex league member who had gone AWOL.  That information the league would most definitely be interested in and perhaps, just perhaps, could prove very valuable information personally to Dak Bluddhook. *   *   *   *   * ‘So do we find these guys straight away, or look around Arcturia for some time.  And I want to go visit Aunt Helene soon and see Landoria as well.  So what to next?’Kalan considered that.  Really, they were in no great rush with these contacts.  He had just been eager to begin his new lifestyle.  But sure, they could go see Chance’s older sister and visit with Landoria as well.  They were home, now, and may as well do the normal things as well.‘Ok, we will go visit Aunt Helene and her family.  And then, I guess we will get somewere to stay.  Perhaps an apartment.  We can get to these contacts in a few weeks.  It will give you an opportunity to enjoy home.’‘Thank’s bro.’ As they took off, Kalan was pleased with himself.  The encounter with Dak had gone well, and he had work available to him.  Now would be the ideal opportunity to catch up with family and settle themselves on Arcturia.  Hell, with the gold they had brought with them they could buy themselves an apartment on Arcturia if they wanted to, which might be wise.  Arcturia was as good a place as any to set up as a homebase.  Walking the Rim in search of action had its own reward, but it would always be nice to get back to a place they could call home.  Setting off, Kalan was happy.  Life had a buzz to it at the moment.  A happy action-filled buzz.  19 The two of them ended up buying a newish apartment on the edge of Zardray, Arcturia’s capital city.  Arcturia had long been a united monarchy, the divided kingdoms coming together under the authority of King Sigmorius around a thousand years ago.  But these days, in a very similar way in which the monarchy of the United Galaxy had come to be and the powers it possessed, the monarchy of Arcturia was now primarily a figurehead monarchy, with the real power being the Parliament.  What Landoria had once sought out so passionately had become a reality around a century after their exile.  And it had been around then the drone ships with supplies had started coming near the ark. They visited Landoria and talked with her on many subjects of Arcturian life.  She’d had qualifications prior to her exile on the Ark, and now worked in one of Zardray’s chief universities as a lecturer.  And, strangely enough, she had met someone upon returning to Arcturia and had given birth to a daughter who was now in her mid-twenties.  She’ella, as she was known, was a stunning Arcturian female who Kalan instantly took a liking to.  And She’ella made it known to him that she was interested likewise. The romance was really quite sudden and, within 2 months, they had agreed to marry.  Xadina had insisted their parents be present for the ceremony, but Kalan had said he was anxious to marry and there was not enough time.  And so she had stopped bothering him on the idea and Kalan and She’ella were married in the ‘Temple of the One’ on the first day of the Arcturian New Year. In all of this excitement, and in becoming a married man, Kalan began a life of settling down.  All of a sudden the urge which had brought him out to the rim to pursue a life of adventure had been replaced by the reality of a married life and new responsibilities.  But he didn’t really complain.  He had no obligations to follow up with Dak Bluddhook as he had never contacted any of the shady underground figures Dak had provided him details for.  Really, in truth, he was on one of his real homes in a sense and settling down to a regular life.  After a while Xadina queried wether he intended heading home one day, to which Kalan gave no firm response at first.  And then he remembered Jan had given him a decade’s grace, so he decided he would make Arcturia his home for that time.  Xadina herself missed New Terra and the lifestyle which went along with it, but part of her, like Kalan, felt at home on Arcturia and they even met with a number of other green-skinned Arcturian’s with human and Arcturian parents from time to time. So she decided that she may as well stay the decade with Kalan and get back to the life of luxury later.  For now Arcturia was home. The months passed and soon Kalan announced that She’ella was pregnant.  This gave Xadina thoughts of her own.  She was still relatively young for an Arcturian, but she also had a human parent.  However while there had been a great deal of fuss at home for her to eventually marry one of her many suitors, she had never found herself given over to any of them.  But, perhaps here on Arcturia, were she was not greatly known, perhaps here she might find a regular type of man who would love her for her own sake, rather than any icon of prestige that she represented on New Terra.  And so she started dating various men which Landoria and her Aunt Helen introduced to her, hoping in the end to find the love of her life.  There was no time like the present to find someone, she thought to herself, and an Arcturian, like Kalan had chosen, would be just as suitable a choice as a human. But despite her many dates, nobody really suited her, so she prayed a silent prayer to the One in temple one day, and left the choice of her mate in his hands.  When the time came for her to marry, she would marry.  But until then she would enjoy being an Auntie and see what life brought her in general.  20 James Sadik Kolby was born to two parents who, from that point onwards, doted on him.  He was their special little man, and each of them loved him greatly.  For Kalan, becoming a father at 37 felt like a coming of age.  As if he had reached a level of manhood and this child was a token of that level.  As if he had found approval from the One for being a responsible man. His sister, with the birth of James, visited now everyday and She’ella often voiced her frustrations at never having James to herself.  Kalan spoke quietly with Xadina on the subject, but understood her dilemma.  She was without a great deal of family here on Arcturia, despite her brother and his new family and her Aunt’s family being here.  But Kalan suspected the real reason was that Xadina had been longing after a family of her own.  She wanted to be a mother Kalan sensed, and James seemed to be an avenue to voice that desire.  And so he asked She’ella that, for the time being, if she could put up with the fussiness of her sister-in-law.  Fortunately, though, Xadina took the hint and backed off somewhat, restricting herself to one or two visits per week, which She’ella didn’t seem to mind. When James was one, Xadina had finally persuaded Kalan for them to visit home and announce the good news.  Kalan, though, decided to put it off to the New Year, mainly because he was now working in Arcturian Space Defense, responsible for routine patrols of Arcturian Space.  Landoria had had a friend in the defense sector and sensing Kalan itchy to do something with his life had suggested he apply for work with the space department of Arcturian Defense. Kalan had gone with the idea and, supplying his details of his work with Allegiance, which seemed to be well received, he had gotten work in the routine space patrols.  It was pretty mundane work, but it kept him busy, and She’ella claimed she liked a man who worked for a living. Xadina herself had gotten the most basic of jobs.  A waitress at a Zardrayan café near her apartment.  It was only part-time, but like Kalan she needed to keep herself occupied and although she had been studying at a university back on New Terra and had thought about applying to study here on Arcturia, she wanted a work outlet to meet new people and do something for the money which she already really had.  In a sense it was her parent’s sense of contributing to galactic life, especially the voice of her mother, which motivated her to work.  And while the work was gritty and grimy at times, she felt satisfied that she was doing her part for the galaxy and Arcturia and, in a sense, paying her dues. So much so did they get caught up with their lives and their work that when the New Year came around Kalan forgot all about heading home with news of James but managed to persuade Xadina that, when their decade holiday was over, and they returned to New Terra, it would make a great surprise for his father.  Besides, he wouldn’t then have to worry about changing nappies or coping with a precious child.  By ten, so Kalan assured his sister, James would be well brought up and a responsible young man.  This she really doubted, knowing how much of a handful Kalan had been in his younger years.  But, as an answer to her objections for not returning home, it was good enough.  In fact, now that she had started university she was in fact also a little reluctant herself to leave at this time, wishing to concentrate on her studies and give her best to them. And so the second year of their sojourn on Arcturia came and went, and the Kolby children seemed to be quite happy and content living on their adopted planet, which was a planet of their blood anyway. As they began their third year Kalan had forgotten all about the real reason he had left New Terra in the first place.  The life of adventure which had beckoned to him had been replaced by the steady and calm life of child-rearing and family responsibility.  But not all had forgotten the reason Kalan Rance Kolby had come to Arcturia.  And when, one fine afternoon, a man dressed in red, a priest from the temple of Daranok, which was a front, a certain Dak Bluddhook, came visiting the Kolby’s, his mind on a particular avenue of blackmail which he felt would most definitely bring handsome dividends, the life of the Kolby children was set to change once more.  And this time their fate would be not so simple.  For while Dak was, all things considered, a congenial enough kind of member of the League of Piracy, he had a dark streak.  A dark streak which the Kolby children would find out about soon enough.  21 ‘What do you want, Bluddhook?’ asked Kalan, bothered by the presence of the League of Piracy member.‘Hey, if you were you father’s son you would at least welcome me in first and get me a beer before asking questions.’Kalan looked at him, but was determined not to let him in just like that.  ‘I repeat, Bluddhook.  What do you want?  And how did you find this address?’‘It is the Leagues business to know were members and EX-members reside.  Besides, you are not that difficult to trace.  Well, you going to let me in?  And how about that beer?’Kalan looked at him, frustrated, but despite thinking better of it, allowed him into the front living room of his home.  They sat down on a couch and Dak looked at him anxiously.  ‘The beer?’Kalan went off and fetched a can from his kitchen fridge and returned, handing it to Dak, who opened it and took a large mouthful.‘That’s the stuff,’ he said, burping and wiping his mouth.  He looked around Kalan’s apartment.‘Hey, nice place.  I love what you have done with it.  Very modern.’Kalan relaxed a little.  Whatever else his father’s old adversary seemed talkative and friendly enough.  Perhaps he needn’t have been so cautious.‘My wife, She’ella, decorated it as she saw fit.’‘And where is the sweetheart?’‘At my sisters.’Dak nodded, and took another swig of beer.‘So tell me, Bluddhook.  Why the visit?  What business has the league of piracy got to do with me?’Dak continued looking around the apartment, but he had heard Kalan’s question, and eventually turned looking him in the eyes.‘You know, Kalan.  Nobody leaves the League of Piracy on their own terms.  Nobody.  We know your father disappeared, and we suspect it really was him who reclaimed the Sigmorius crown.  And because of that the league really is not that fond of Kolby’s.  Believe me, not that fond.’‘And what has my father’s actions got to do with me?’‘You are a Kolby, dear Kalan.  You are a Kolby.  And, besides, you yourself were not given permission to leave Draxon like you did.  So the deal is this.  If you do a particular task for me.  A most particular task, I will see to it that the League no longer bother’s you and that the Kolby’s, including your father, have their peace with the League of Piracy.  Do this one last mission for us and we will never bother you again.  You have my word.’‘And what use is the word of a pirate?’‘Hey, ask your father.  Besides, the League is generally an honourable enough organisation, despite working on the darker side of the law.  Hell, you know, honour amongst thieves and all that.’Kalan nodded.  Somehow he knew he could relate to that statement.‘What is the mission, then.  I am not saying I will help you.  But if I do, I want your guarantee the league will leave us alone – permanently.’‘That I can guarantee you, Kalan Kolby.’‘So what is the game, then.  What do you want?’‘Something a Kolby should be good at.  Really, you should practically excel at this?’ said Jan, a mad grin on his face.‘Yeh, what,’ said Kalan, his curiousity aroused.‘Steal back the fucking Sigmorius crown.’Kalan looked at him for a moment, and noted the serious look on his face.  And then he himself grinned a little at the irony.  ‘Figures,’ he said after a few moments.  22 After a few days Kalan knew he had to speak with his wife of his dilemma.  While he had given Dak his assurance that he would steal the crown, he was still somewhat reluctant to commit a genuine crime, even for his family’s safety.  And so he spoke with She’ella regarding the situation and she told him almost instantly to contact Arcturian authorities.  Kalan considered that.  For three days he mulled it over, considering the pros and the cons, but eventually he concluded that such was the nature of the League of Piracy and so pervasive and widespread the organisation, that no matter who he told and who was assigned to him for protection, the league could find him out if they wanted to.  And they could harm his family if they really wanted to.  So, for Kalan Kolby, that risk being to great to take, he agreed, reluctantly, to go through with the job. Dak had not contacted him since, but had left contact details.  Kalan was unsure wether Dak himself wanted in on stealing the crown.  Perhaps he wanted to keep his role with the league on Arcturia safely shielded by his temple front, and not get involved with such things on a personal basis.  So Kalan began by seeing if he could simply steal the thing himself.  A name came to mind, one which his father had spoken of.  A Shadrachian thief by the name of Yelt Trandolin.  He was a master of the art and if anyone could steal the crown, he could. Kalan mulled it over for a few weeks when Dak finally contacted him again, to see what Kalan had planned.  Kalan told him the job was under way, and not to worry.  He decided to ask if Dak himself wanted in on the job, but Dak told him to handle it alone for now.  But, if he needed him, he would see what help he could provide.‘You’re a Kolby.  Surprise me,’ was all that Dak really said, placing confidence in the child of the famous Rimwalker. Putting in a deep space transmission to Shadrach from Arcturian Communications, Kalan awaited Yelt’s response.  Perhaps he would send a message signalling no great interest.  Or perhaps, hopefully, he would show up himself.  Kalan would have to arrange a fee for Yelt, but with the value of the crown he was sure that Dak would have no objections. He spent the next few weeks awaiting a response and thinking his way through the situation he was in.  Really, he felt he had no real answer apart from going ahead with the theft.  But, in the end, it was his family’s safety, and they came first.  They always came first. Yelt sent a transmission a few weeks later informing him that, unfortunately, he could not get away at this time.  He had some suggested contacts, but Kalan was reluctant to use someone he or his father did not know personally.  It had come down to this, he would have to do the job alone.  Still, that was not the end of the world.  Like all thefts, there were problems.  But problems were made to be solved, and the son of the Rimwalker had a reputation going with that name.  If he couldn’t steal the Sigmorius crown, who the hell could. And so he began making his plans, studying the location of the crown and as much security detail as he could.  It would be difficult, but with the right plan, perhaps achievable.  Really, he had no other choice.  23 After two solid months of planning, having gone over the presumed location of the crown, according to media reports, Kalan felt he was making progress.  He had been able to take a guided tour of some of the Royal facilities near were it was presumed the crown was kept and with a supposed camera which really had special sensors, he took heat-signal pictures and with a metal-sensor began drawing up diagrams of how the crown was protected. At the end of the third month, he had come to a conclusion.  The job could be done, but he would need a third person to temporarily cut of Zardrayan power supplies from the main station.  Either that or trace, amongst a million cords, the lines from the compound to the station, and cut it somewere along the way.  In the end Kalan concluded it would be easier to simply stop the supply of power at the central station itself, allowing him the necessary time at the final step of the task, getting through the electronic sensor equipment which was to well protected at the source to make it viable to crack.  He could only hope they didn’t have a back-up generator, or he was fucked. He contacted Dak with the information and, with some persuading, Bluddhook stated bluntly he would have his man when he needed him. And so Kalan set the date, late on a weekend night, and went through the final details of the plan. A week before the job Dak announced he would help out Kalan personally, to ensure no fuck-up’s in his own words.  Kalan had no objections, and had already worked out the details for shorting the power station for the 10 to 15 minutes necessary. All things, now, seemed well.  If they followed the plan to the letter, Kalan was certain they would have the crown.  He was quite certain.  Strangely enough, he felt after having looked at how it could be done, that the Arcturian’s were almost unconcerned wether the crown was stolen again.  It was not as heavily protected as it perhaps should have been.  But Kalan felt an air of the political mood which perhaps caused such a situation.  Democracy had taken hold of Arcturia in recent years, and the crown was just a figurehead.  But more and more Arcturian’s seemed to demand their own individual rights and it was becoming viewed by some, especially the returned Landoria and the influence that she wielded, which was great as a university lecturer, that the monarchy had served its purpose and could now be done away with.  It was a relic of an era, now over with, and best dismantled and left to the studies of history students.  All of this led Kalan to assume that the Royals perhaps almost wanted the crown stolen, given the lack of a first class security system.  But all of that was speculation.  For now it was protected, and still valued, and he would have to be at his best to ensure he got away with the job without being caught. And so they waited the day, and Kalan reported to work nervously the final day of the working week, but went home sick, so he claimed.  They were ready now.  The job was to be done.  24 Jan whispered into the microphone.  ‘Now!’Dak Bluddhook, stationed in the basement of Zardray’s central power station, having made the final few blows to the outer wall, which ran alongside the sewer system, set the timer on the explosives, and then hit a button on his wristpad.  Up above in the parking lot of the power station a van exploded into fury, and the workers in the station, as Kalan had surmised they would, all drifted outside to see the commotion.  And as Dak scurried along the sewers, the explosives went off, and suddenly the city went dark. Kalan noticed the blackout instantly, and went to work.  He had hidden inside toilets after the guided tour of the facilities near were the crown was kept.  And now, armed with some small explosives and a bolt cutter, he proceeded to blow the entrance to the main doors of the tower were it was presumed the crown was kept.  He climbed the stairs in the darkness, his infra-red goggles showing him the way.  The electricity was still out and all the sensors, fortunately, failed to register his presence. He made it to the top of the tower, blew the final door, and came into were he believed the crown was kept.  He was in luck.  Not only was the Sigmorius crown featured on display in the large glass cabinet in the centre of the room, but various other royal jewels.  But he was only here for the Sigmorius crown, and would not add to Dak’s booty if he could at all help it. He shattered the glass with his crow-bar and, grabbing the crown, waiting for an alarm which did not come, put it into his satchel and scrambled off. He made it out onto the street, dressed in black, having carefully avoided the guard’s who had torches on and were frantically running around everywhere.  Fortunately they were not that greatly trained or they may have spotted him. He ran down the street, turned the corner, and got into his vehicle.  Powering up he belted away just as the city power lights came back on.  They’d obviously used an alternative supply, but he had gotten away just in time.  Luck had been on his side. They had agreed he would head back to his place and in the morning Dak would show up to claim the crown.  After that Dak had suggested both of them take a temporary holiday from Arcturia, out on Arcturia minor, and monitor the situation from a distance, ready to escape if needs be. As the vehicle sped along Kalan grinned a little.  He had done it.  Whatever else, despite it being a crime which he regretted, he had been successful and proved himself a master-thief in the tradition of his father.  Really, it wasn’t something to be proud of, but he grinned anyway. He arrived home and, leaving his gear in the vehicle at the basement of his apartment, took the satchel and came up by the basement elevators to his floor.  She’ella looked at him when he came in, and spied the satchel.‘Did you get it.  Well, are we out of trouble with the league?’Kalan displayed the crown, and sat down, breathing a sigh of relief.‘Now, remember, if anyone asks I am visiting my father on New Terra and will be away a while.  I have already cleared this with work.  But I don’t think we will be traced.  I was too cautious for that.’‘You better hope so,’ replied She’ella, but silently she was relieved.  Hopefully, soon, the lives of the Kolby’s could get back to normal, never having to worry about and Sigmorian crowns’ or any league of piracy ever again.  25 ‘We will be on Arcturia minor for about three months at this stage, sis.  But remember, if anyone comes asking, I am visiting dad on New Terra.’‘And if they don’t believe me?’‘Don’t sweat it.  They will hardly beat the truth out of you.’‘You hope.’‘You’ll be alright.  Trust me.’‘I trust YOU Kalan.  But I don’t think I trust that Dak Bluddhook.  He will ditch you if you become a problem.  He seems the type to break loyalties.’‘I know what you are saying, sis.  But don’t worry.  I can handle myself and Dak Bluddhook.  Just remember, if any authorities come asking, I will be back in a few months.  They have nothing to worry about from Kalan Kolby.’‘I’ll remember.  And good luck.  You may need it.’‘Thanks.’ *   *   *   *   * ‘So you ready to go?’Kalan looked at Dak as he came out of his sister’s apartment and responded gruffly.‘Let’s get the fuck, going ok.  The sooner we are gone the sooner we can come back.’‘Three months, Kolby.  We do not return for at least three months.  By then if they really wanted to speak with us, they will be searching.  And your sister can tell us all about that if it is an issue.  They will likely speak with her if they are onto us.’‘Yeh, I guess.’‘Hey, don’t sweat it kid.  Arcturia minor is not the greatest of places, but the small colony there will do us.  It’s only a decade old now, mainly set up for mining, but they have a small hotel with accommodation.  Nobody will look for us there.  I am sure of it.’‘If you say so.’ They had agreed to take the Wolfklaw, and as they pulled out of spacedock, Kalan nervously programmed in the co-ordinates for New Terra.  However, a fair distance from Arcturia, changed co-ordinates for Arcturia minor.  It took them over a week, but they found the hotel and stayed out of sight, ordering room service. It was a nervous time for Kalan Kolby, and he often worried the way Dak looked at him, but he would be home soon.  Home and back with his family and all of this league business over and done with.  So he hoped anyway.  26 Despite her brother’s assurance that he could handle Dak Bluddhook, Xadina could not find it within herself to trust the guy.  He seemed dark – the kind of fellow who would sell his mother for a meal if starving.  And while she wanted to honour her brother’s request, she felt she had to do something and that is when, lost for ideas, she contacted home via a deep-space communication signal, requesting her father come out and meet her on Arcturia. Two weeks later the response came back that Jan was already on his way and four weeks later he arrived, Chance in tow.  He had come alone.  Whatever the situation with his son, out here on the edge of the galaxy he felt it best if he was not identified, and few would know his face, or so he believed. Xadina did her best to explain to her father the situation and, after mulling it over, Jan felt it might be best to go out and retrieve his son.  Xadina had stated quite certainly that no Arcturian authorities had questioned her or been seen looking around her place, and She’ella reported a similar situation.  As such Kalan would not be in trouble with Arcturia, and Jan felt it worth the risk to now go out and retrieve his son.  Regardless, even if Arcturia found out, Jan was sure given his new position he could smooth things over with the Arcturian’s once the situation was explained properly. Jan decided to travel as incognito to Arcturia minor as possible, leaving Xadina and Chance behind on Arcturia.  He did not want to risk their safety. It was his job now.  He would find his son, let Dak know the Kolby’s were finished once and for all with the league of piracy, their obligations met and dealt with, and persuade Kalan to come home to New Terra, along with the grand-son he had just gotten to know.  Whatever else, in United Galaxy space they had more bargaining power should Arcturia ever have concerns. Travelling on the routine monthly flight from Arcturia to Arcturia minor Jan feared for his son.  He knew Dak – he was a crafty old soul, always one to be worried about if your back was turned.  And while he would likely treat Kalan honourably to a degree that could change if the bastard felt an opportunity was his, such as ditching a partner who could one day blab about a theft.  And that concerned Jan greatly.  He would find his son, and deal with Dak Bluddhook once and for all.  27 The trip to Arcturia minor took a full week and landing at the small spaceport he figured it would not take long to find his son.  There was a large amount of accommodation for the various miners which worked on the planet, as well as two hotels.  Dak could have contacts on the planet, and be staying with someone.  If that were the case, he would have to be patient in finding him.  But first things first, and the most obvious, trying the two hotels for those who fitted the description. He tried the larger hotel first, at the northern edge of the spaceport.  He gave a description and while the hotel was reluctant to divulge information on its guests, assured Jan that nobody fitting the description was staying with them or had been seen. And so he tried the other hotel.  They too were reluctant to divulge information, but the receptionist winked at him and when he handed over a large Arcturian credit note, gave him the room number. Jan came to the room and cautiously knocked on the door.  He was not really sure what to expect, but he had seen the Wolfklaw still in dock, so assumed they would be here. After a few moments hesitation Dak Bluddhook opened the door and looked at Jan Kolby, then letting out a grin.‘For fuck’s sake, if it isn’t the devil himself.  Jan fucking Kolby.  And dressed finely mind you.  I guess being King of the Galaxy would do that to you.’‘Were is my son, Dak.’‘Hey, why not come in.  Have a beer.  Your son is just in the bathroom, taking a shower.  He will join us shortly.’ Jan nodded, came inside, and Dak gave him a beer. Dak looked at him for a few moments, and then Kalan walked in, bare-chested, but in his pants, and nodded at his dad.‘I am not surprised, dad.  I figured Xadina might have worried.’‘And so she should.  She has always been the sensible one.’Jan looked at Dak.‘Now, Bluddhook.  As far as I can tell my son has fulfilled his arrangement with yourself.  Xadina and Kalan’s wife have assured me that Arcturian authorities are not onto you.  They have not been anywhere near her, and sufficient time has passed.  So what do you say about me and my son leaving now and all league interest in the Kolby’s being finished for good?’ Dak nodded.  ‘Yeh, I suppose that sounds good, Kolby.  Good for you, but.’  And having said that Dak pulled out a phaser he had been hiding under his pillow.  ‘BUT I don’t think I can really take the chance now.  You have influence.  Great influence.  And I think, for your son’s reputation, the first thing you will do when you get back to Arcturia is confess and let them know my location.  So, no.  I don’t think you are going anywhere.  In fact, fabulous Rimwalker, I think this is the end of the line for you.’ Kalan grinned.  He had suspected this betrayal.  For quite a while.  And when a week back he had taken out the power supply from Dak’s phaser, he now knew it had definitely been the sensible thing to do. ‘Go ahead, Bluddhook.  Press the trigger.  Go ahead.’‘If you say so, Kolby,’ replied Dak.  ‘Say goodbye!’  But as soon as he pressed the trigger, it fizzed a little and did nothing else. ‘I threw away the power supply,’ said Kalan.  ‘I figured you’d betray me.’‘Shit,’ said Dak.  ‘Shit.  Hey, look, Kolby.  Only kidding alright.  No hard feelings, ok.’ ‘Bite me,’ responded Kalan. Jan looked at his son.  ‘Ready to go?’‘Let’s get out of here.’ As they left Jan turned to Dak.  ‘It has been good knowing you, Dak Bluddhook.  But we got to run.  But see you next time, ok?’‘You can count on it,’ responded Dak, looking embarrassed. They left the room, and quickly made their way to the Wolfklaw.  Taking off Kalan looked back.  He was free now, all obligations dealt with.  And his life could begin again.  In the strangest way the situation was now resolved and, for Kalan Kolby, seeing Dak Bluddhook again within the next 50 years would be too soon.  28 As they sped along, headed back for Arcturia, they had been gone from Arcturia minor for about three hours when, suddenly, out of nowhere, laser bolts started hammering into the Wolfklaw’s hull.‘What the fuck is that?’ yelled Jan.Kalan spoke to the computer who brought up a scan of one of the space vessels from Arcturia Minor which was now following them, opening fire.  And it was a pretty well armed ship by the looks of it.‘Who the fuck is it?’ yelled Jan.Kalan knew.  Instantly he knew.  ‘Its Bluddhook.  He is chasing us.’‘But why the hell go to this much trouble, just to get rid of us.  I would have thought he wouldn’t worry now.’‘Its not us he wants,’ replied Kalan.‘Then what?’‘The crown.  We agreed to leave it in safekeeping on the ship.  I forgot all about it.’The bolts were still showering into the hull of the Wolfklaw, and Jan spoke up.‘We won’t survive long against that ship.  But I have an idea.  Computer.’‘Yes commander Kolby,’ responded the female voice.‘Take us to the Ark.  The space ark near Arcturian minor.  The one the rebels used.  Do you remember?’‘Affirmative, Captain.’ The ship suddenly changed course and, fortunately as they were quite close already, ten minutes later, avoiding the bolts as best they could, they docked with the ark and taking the crown, came to the central command deck. The other ship was hovering in front of the ark, perhaps deciding on his next move. ‘What next?’ asked Kalan.‘This thing is not armed, but I have an idea.  Trust me.’Jan proceeded to destroy the communications devices on board the central command deck, and alongside his son hid down near the dock, just away a bit from the Wolfklaw. As Jan suspected, Bluddhook landed on the Ark and soon, walking right by them, armed with a new phaser, went off hunting them on the Ark. ‘Ok Kalan, get on board the Wolfklaw.  I will be right back.’Kalan did as his father instructed, and was waiting on board the Wolfklaw.  A few minutes later his father returned and yelled to his son to get the fuck out of there. They took off and Kalan asked his dad what he had done.‘Watch,’ said Kalan.The screen showed the Ark and then, suddenly, Dak’s ship exploded, damaging the dock of the Ark as well.‘What did you do?’ asked Kalan.‘Set off the auto-destruct.  I figured the ship would have one, and I am used to Arcturian cruisers.’Kalan nodded, and looked at the ark.  ‘Of course, you destroyed the communication devices, didn’t you?  I figured that was what you were doing.’Jan nodded.‘You cunning old fox.  He will be stranded there.  Perhaps for good.  With a damaged space dock passers by might not bother trying to land.’Jan nodded again.  ‘Hopefully that will be the last we ever see of Dak Bluddhook and the league of piracy.  And thank God for that.’Kalan laughed.  ‘Were to now, dad?  Arcturia I presume.’‘Actually, no.  I have another idea.  First a certain nearby planet, and then Arcturia.  I have a grudge, Kalan.  And it is time to deal with it once and for all.’‘Whatever,’ said Kalan perplexed.  29 ‘What was this place called again.  It really is a hellhole,’ queried Kalan to his father.‘Karnak.  There is life near the poles, but most of the inner region is uninhabited desert.  But, THAT,’ said Jan, pointing to the ruined buildings of decayed metal being shown on the screen, ‘that is the final resting place for perhaps my greatest foe.’‘And what foe is that?’ asked Kalan, amused.‘That fucking crown.’ They landed the ship and Jan put on his old boots, took the crown and headed off.  He returned about 20 minutes later and Kalan finally asked the question.‘But why here?  Why hide the crown on Karnak?’‘That is a long story, son of mine.  A long story.  Perhaps I will tell it to you sometime.  Remind me, before I get too old, ok.’‘Whatever.’ Jan spoke to the computer and the took off back into the atmosphere, now headed back to Arcturia.  The Sigmorius crown, the bane of the lives of more than one Kolby, had found its resting place.  And, having come home, settled down to another aeon long wait for a new owner.  30 Jan picked up James, and looked at him.  He really was a Kolby, despite the more Arcturian look of him now.  His mother She’ella looked on nervously, and after a few moments Jan handed his grandson back to her. In the time they had been away She’ella had gotten to know her mother-in-law, Chance, and they had become close friends.  Chance had spoken a number of times about She’ella coming to live on New Terra.  She had been somewhat reluctant at first, not really wanting to leave her mother, but she had also been attracted to the kind of lifestyle which Xadina spoke of, and wanted the best for her son James.  So she had acquiesced in the end, and plans were now made for Kalan and Xadina’s self imposed decade long exile to finish early.  Kalan agreed that he’d had enough adventure for one lifetime and that taking up his role on New Terra might just be in his own and his son’s own best interests. Jan spoke that, assuming the Royal family continued, Kalan would one day take over from Jan.  And then, quite possibly, James take over one day from Kalan.  There were three generations ready to sit on the throne of the United Galaxy and, as long as they were wanted, the Kolby’s were happy enough to fill the role. The flight home was generally uneventful, and as Arcturia disappeared behind him, Kalan was sad in some ways, but also glad to be heading back for New Terra which also was his true home.  It had been an adventure for Kalan and Xadina Kolby.  A great adventure out here on the rim, one which he had pursued of his own choice to start with, but which had taken unexpected turns.  But now, in truth, he was glad to be heading home.  He was a family man, with a role in the galaxy.  And the name of Kolby was at stake.  Perhaps his choice, one day, would be seen wise.  Perhaps the legacy of the Kolby’s would one day be ever the more fruitful for Kalan again taking up his responsibilities in the life of the Galaxy.  Perhaps. Xadina, likewise, was glad to be going home now.  Her university education was unfinished but she had gotten knowledge which was always the important thing.  And, back home, she felt she would continue with her education and become more of the scholar she perhaps needed to be.  And now, perhaps now, she would be more easy on those suitors who sought her hand, and say yes to one of them.  If seeing the birth of her nephew James had taught her anything it was that family was a blessing.  A blessing not to turn the nose at but to relish and enjoy, knowing the peace of heart and joy to the soul it brought. It took a number of months, but eventually the Kolby’s arrived home, and the life of the first family of the galaxy returned to its more normal routine.  And, for a while, everything was good.  For a while.  31 The time, now, was good.  The time, now, was opportune.  The time, now, was right.  And so when Jan Kolby proposed to the Galactic Council of the United Galaxy the expansion outwards from quadrant zero to encompass the remainder of the known galaxy, most member bodies approved the idea. This time, though, Jan sensed it would not be as easy as Galagon had been.  This time they would have a struggle.  Although they had much to offer.  Distinct advantages in that respect. In the years since the formation of the Galactic Council, the system of currency known as the Galaga had become increasingly widespread throughout quadrant zero, as the plan had been all along, and from reports it was viewed as hard currency by many of the outer quadrant systems as well.  In fact, in his brief stay on Arcturia before departing for home, Kalan had shown him a number of stores in Zardray which happily accepted Galaga’s.  And that was their advantage. Stressing the distinct advantage of a unified monetary system, and the free trade which could potentially go along with it, which had partially been realized in the inner galaxy with strong free trade agreements between many systems, and a far more flexible immigration policy abounding, Jan felt the time was definitely right to approach the outer systems in a similar manner to the way the inner systems had been approached. Naturally, he had worries about some systems.  The Drongan empire, for example, were he had been a slave, might prove particularly difficult to win to the idea. But, nevertheless, the time was right for expansion, and most UG members felt it was as good as time as any. Working on this project occupied many of Jan’s hours, often working deep into the night, planning strategy and approach for various civilizations.  He now had a fair idea of just what citizens inhabited the Milky Way Galaxy, and had become fluent in over 30 widely spoken languages of the inner and outer quadrants.  Mastering all in his brief lifespan would have proved impossible, but translation devices were very popular in New Terra and communicating with them all never proved that difficult.  Still it was always an advantage to know the language, and one night of Jan’s week had always been put aside for language lessons. When he reached 75 it was deemed the time was right.  The council approved of the official outreach to the outer galaxy and delegates and documentation strewed forth.  It was now just a matter of time for Jan Kolby.  Now just a matter of time.  32 Kalan sat in one of the greater lounges of the Royal palace, his son on the carpet on the floor in front of him, playing with some toys.  He had grown in the last few years, and was talking well for his age. At that moment Xadina walked in and, waving to Kalan, asked if he would join her for a walk.  He pushed a buzzer and when a maid shortly came in he asked her to watch James. Coming out onto a balcony, with steps leading down into the impressive royal gardens, Xadina stood on the balcony, looking out at Televere. ‘We have been blessed, really, haven’t we Kalan.’‘Yes, I guess.  But why say such a thing now?  We have always known how lucky we are.’‘I guess,’ she continued, brushing her hair with her hand.  ‘I guess, living on Arcturia changed my perspective somewhat.  I mean, working as a waitress I met a lot of people, many of which are living lives so totally unlike our own.  So many of them struggle to make ends meet, having poor jobs or education disadvantages.  And not everyone is as bright as the average, which makes it so hard for some families to get by.’‘Yeh, I know sis.  But that really is life.  It is the way things are in the real world, as dad would see.  And while I feel for many people, we can’t help everyone right away.  We can only do what we do.  Which is, I guess, why what dad does is so important.  Perhaps, more than anything else, if the UG does extend outwards and free trade grows, it will inevitably mean a better quality of life for all citizens of the galaxy.  Free trade means greater opportunities for business.  Without the incessant costs of tariffs, which only reward selfish civilizations, greater equity will spread and benefit all of us.  So, you know sis, while it is so very admirable of you to feel this way, something is being done about it.  I mean, something has always been done about it.  For millennia mankind worked on this problem, as all civilizations do, and we have always continued to improve our quality of life.  It’s getting better for everyone.  Slowly, inevitably, it is getting better for everyone.  Believe me.’Xadina nodded, taking in that lengthy speech.‘Of course, you are right Kalan.  You are always right.  But, whatever else, I am so grateful for the life dad and mum have brought us up to live.  We are so blessed, really.  So very blessed.’Kalan nodded, empathising.   Xadina continued staring out at the city for some time and then, eventually, perhaps having reached some conclusions, turned to her brother and asked him to walk with her in the gardens. As they walked along, Xadina seemed thoughtful, as if the thoughts she had expressed weighed heavily on her.  Kalan admired that in his sister.  She had a good heart, really.  Like her mother in that respect.  And it only made him gladder that God had brought Xadina Omega Beltana Kolby into his life. Eventually she spoke.  ‘Whatever else, dear brother, I am glad we are free from that Dak Bluddhook.  I feared him, you know.  He seemed to have a dark edge which I think neither you or dad really noticed.  I am glad he is stuck on that station.  I am so glad of that.’‘If he is even still alive.  But mum said the ark had years of basic ration supplies, apart from the food they grew on the ark.  He is probably right now eating crackers and drinking recycled water.  But such is the reward for a rogue, I guess.’‘Let’s hope so. They walked for some time more, and sat down on a concrete bench.  Kalan sat, thinking over Dak Bluddhook who he had forgotten about, and like Xadina expressed, glad to see the back of him.  The sat for a while, looking over the garden, oblivious to the identity which had just gotten past the security barriers and was now just a few metres away from them, armed with a phaser, staring at his foes.  It would be a shock for the Kolby children.  A most definite shock, and one which they were just about to experience. 33 As they sat there, oblivious to the figure watching them, Kalan spoke up.  ‘You know, Dak was a dangerous fellow Xadina.  But that is a pirate for you.  But we Kolby’s are a tough breed, don’t forget that.  We can handle the league of piracy.’Just then the figure emerged, pointed his phaser at them, and spoke.‘Hey there punks.  So you can handle the league, huh.  Well we’ll see about that alright.  We’ll see about that.’Kalan and Xadina turned their heads, and Xadina screamed.  Of all the possible people in galaxy full of people, this was not one she could have expected to have seen again.  And as Dak Bluddhook pointed his phaser at them, motioning for them to get up and walk carefully, Xadina was internally distraught, overcome by the situation. He directed them to a vehicle and had Kalan sit in the front seat, Xadina next to him.  Sitting in the back seat, with the phaser pointed at Kalan’s back, he said, ‘Remember, no mistakes.  You and your sister are dead unless we get out of here alive.’Kalan nodded.  There would be no mistakes. They drove to the gates, and Kalan pushed a button in the car which automatically opened them.  The guard looked at the Kolby’s as they drove out, but said nothing. Halfway down the street Xadina had had enough.  She opened the door and jumped out quick enough that Dak could do nothing.  Running back to the palace gates, yelling, she turned and saw the vehicle speed off. Getting to the gate she yelled at the guards, but the vehicles were further up the driveway and by the time they had gotten them started and reached the road, Kalan and Dak were nowhere to be seen. He had gotten his revenge after all.  Dak Bluddhook had gotten his revenge after all.  And that night, as Xadina told the sad story to her father, Jan Kolby made up his mind to deal with Dak Bluddhook once and for all.  And this time for the very final time.  The very final time.  34 Kalan pulled at the cords at his wrist.  It was no use, they were tightly tied.  He would just have to sit this one out. He sat there for over an hour when, finally, Dak came back onto the command deck. ‘We are nearly there, lad.  Soon you will meet your fate.  Don’t worry, it will be quick.  Heh heh.  Yeh, it will be quick.’  But the sadistic look on Dak’s face suggested to Kalan that his apparent death would be anything but quick. ‘You know, if you had played your cards right and blown the ark, you wouldn’t be in the situation you are now in.  But you’re a Kolby aren’t you?  Soft in the end.’‘We are not murderers Dak.  We are lawful people, unlike some.’‘Coming from the man who stole the Sigmorius crown.  That’s a bit much, don’t you think.’‘I had no choice.  You know that better than I do.’‘Choice!’ yelled Dak.  ‘There is always a choice.  But, never-mind.  That is in the past.  The future is what is important now, Kalan Kolby.  And I am afraid the news is in.  Yours aint looking so good.’‘Jan will stop you, Dak.  He did before – he will again.’‘I hope so.  Finishing off the final thorn in my flesh would be a perfect way to start my retirement.  In fact, I am really counting on your father following the trail I have left him.  It will be good riddance to the scourge of the Kolby family from the galaxy.’‘Go to hell,’ yelled Kalan.‘Temper, temper.  Still, I would be swearing my head off if I was in your situation.  But, it is only temporary.  Soon I will have my vengeance.  Soon and very soon.’Dak sat there, grinning madly, while Kalan silently prayed that his father was indeed following his trail.  His very life depended on it.  35 The trail Bluddhook had left Jan was indeed pretty easy to follow.  He made his way from station to station, always travelling in the same direction, and when Extar IV came into view on the Wolfklaw’s viewer screen, Kolby sensed this was the planet Bluddhook had been aiming for.  And not surprisingly so.  The inhabitants were barbarians, cannibalism a popular sport.  If Dak wanted Kalan disposed of in the nastiest way possible, Extar IV would be a suitable candidate. He scanned the planet for three days and was thinking to himself to resume his search and leave Extar, when he found a ship. Landing, armed with his phaser, he came to the ship and found the port hatch open.  Perhaps he was expected. Coming in he found traces of activity and found some torn cloth of a jacket which appeared to belong to Kalan.  He was here, alright.  Somewere. He returned to the Wolfklaw, grabbed some sensor equipment, and began his search.  The equipment was advanced, the latest New Terran technology.  And finding two biped creatures only a few kilometres away, walking steadily towards a large crater like outcropping, Jan began his pursuit. It took him half a day, but he closed in on them slowly and, coming into a clearing, looked up and saw his son dangling from a rope, hanging over the centre of the crater.  Just then a loud gurgling sound came from the crater and looking down he could see it was not a crater at all.  It was the nesting ground of some hideous creature.  The kind of creature which probably would take Kalan as an appetizing offering. With his equipment he knew were Dak was.  In the bushes, out of sight.  He could shoot now.  Really he could.  But he couldn’t risk it.  Kalan could be shot down instantly and his son would be dead before he could reach him.  He would have to play this one cautiously. Just then Dak yelled out.  ‘I know you are there, Kolby.  I have known for hours now.  Come on, free him if you dare.  Hey, I give you my word I won’t interfere.’ Jan surmised the situation.  He was stuck.  If he moved, Dak would kill him or even his son instantly.  Yes, he was stuck.  He would have to think quick.  And just then, the old ways returned to him, and he had an idea.  Hopefully, a brilliant idea. ‘Ok Bluddhook.  I surrender.  Give me your word you won’t harm Kalan, and you can have me.  Me for my son.  Do we have a trade?’ There was silence for a few moments, as if Bluddhook was considering just that, and as he was Jan took his gambit.  Hopefully Dak was distracted, thinking over his offer.  And as he climbed up to the place he thought he was, finding him suddenly, Dak turned and took a shot.  Jan evaded the shot and shot at Dak’s phaser, blasting it out of his hand with his dead eye. Dak looked at his hand, stunned, noting the burn mark on his skin.  He looked at Kolby, and smiled that smile Dak Bluddhook was famous for.‘Hey, Jan.  Good to see you old buddy.  Hey, we can settle this like gentlemen, can’t we.  The old fashioned way, huh.  Perhaps a game of cards, you know.  A gamble.’‘I don’t think so, Bluddhook.  You have worried the Kolby’s for the last time.’  Pointing his phaser right at him, he said, ‘Let down Kalan.  Let him down, NOW.  Or you will be rotting in that creatures belly tonight.’‘Sure thing, buddy.  Just don’t shoot ok.’ Dak proceeded to lower Kalan down by the rope, and pulled him to the safety of the ledge which was propped out over the crater. When Kalan was safe on the ledge, Jan momentarily lowered his phaser to check his son, when Dak pounced.  They wrestled, then.  They wrestled and years of frustration went into the figure of Jan Sebastian Kolby, as he wrestled with his own personal demon.  They came closer and closer to the edge of the ledge when they both stood, and Dak hit Jan.  Jan grabbed his collar in return and Dak was left, feet right near the edge, hanging over.Dak looked at Jan, and then looked down into the pit, observing the creature which had emerged.  He returned his look to Jan and spoke.‘Hey, you wouldn’t kill an unarmed fellow, would you?  Come on.’Jan looked at him, smiled and said.  ‘Ok.  Have it your way,’ and threw the phaser at Dak.  Dak managed to grab it but, in the quick action, slipped and falling backwards, vainly shooting off the phaser, fell to the pit below.  The lizard like creature pounced, and within two bites had swallowed his victim whole. Jan looked down.  It was over.  It was finally over.  He turned to his son Kalan, checked his pulse, and found him still alive.  He brought out smelling salts which he had brought with him, waved them under Kalan’s nose, and his son soon woke.  He looked at his father, and then alarmed asked, ‘Bluddhook.  Were is he?’‘Digesting,’ responded Jan, looking downwards.Kalan likewise turned his gaze downwards, noted the creature now returning to the pit, and grinned at his father.  ‘Good bye and good riddance to bad luck.’‘You can say that again,’ responded Jan.  And Kalan laughed.  36 As they traced their way back to the Wolfklaw, Kalan still somewhat drowsy, Kalan began relating some of the things Dak had said.‘Well, he had been stuck on the Ark for three months, so he told me.  Eating crackers and drinking water, as he couldn’t work out how to grow the food.  And then he had found an escape pod on the other side of the Ark which we had not known about, and made his way back to Arcturia Minor.  And from there back to Arcturia.  And then he planned his revenge, until he kidnapped Xadina and myself.’Jan nodded.  It did not surprise him that the Ark had an escape pod.  Still, he had not known the vessel that well, and it was something easy enough to overlook.  Chance had never mentioned it, so they had just gotten unlucky.  But, that was over with now.  Now Dak Bluddhook was a memory, never to surface again.  And his dealings with league of piracy once and for all dealt with.’ When they got him Kalan soon returned to his regular life and late one night Jan chuckled at the memory of Dak and, just for the hell of it, raised a private toast to the fallen pirate.  Whatever else, he had made life interesting for the Kolby’s.  Whatever else he had certainly done that.  37 And now, perhaps the final major act of Jan Kolby’s illustrious life beckoned.  The final shaping of the United Galaxy outwards, to claim the entirety of the known Galaxy and galactic life. A year after having sent out the delegates and documentation, similar to the manner of the original Galagon proposal, they had gotten enough positive responses to make expanding the UG outwards to Quadrants 1, 2, 3 & 4 a viable proposition.  Quadrant 1 was the weakest response, which was not surprising given the divergent array of life there, quite different to the standard bipedal forms of the other quadrants.  But regardless they still had a majority of advanced civilizations in that quadrant assent to the idea, including the Drongans who view Jan Kolby with great favour. It took another 5 years of solid planning, but eventually the inaugural meeting of the first United Galaxy entire Galactic Assembly, constituting all 5 outer quadrants and the inner quadrant took place. There had been some questions from certain new members about the suitability of a Monarchy to oversee the UG, but it was not an important enough issue for most to make admission into to the Galactic Council untenable. And so, at 80 years of age, the illustrious Jan Kolby, the famous Rimwalker, was declared by many Absolute Monarch of the known Milky Way galaxy. Reflecting on this privately with his wife Chance, he knew his destiny had now been fulfilled.  He had risen as high as he possibly could in life, and now it was only a matter of responsibility and enjoying the vast privileges which had been given to him. The Galaga was gradually circulated outwards and within another 7 years the Galaxy had its first unified currency, generally accepted on over 90% of Galactic civilized planets. It was around then that Xadina started speaking with her father and reminding him constantly that the Kolby’s, as a family, served the galaxy rather than the galaxy serving them.  They had been highly honoured, but as Xadina saw it that meant responsibility so much more so than luxury.  And due to that, as a family, they restrained themselves more greatly than they otherwise might have from some of the lavishness of the past that they had grown accustomed to.  For Xadina the name of Kolby was meant to be a valued and respected name.  Not one of a pampered and out of touch royalty. Jan saw the wisdom in his daughter, and appreciated her humility.  Perhaps of all the Kolby family Xadina represented ideals which they all looked up to.  She certainly made for a proud father. So, as Jan turned 81 and then 82, getting on in life, but still feeling he had a few years left in him, he grew to understand even more so the notion of service and denoting oneself to a higher purpose and a higher power.  And with that attitude the Kolby’s became more than just a royal family.  They became decent and real people.  The kind of people everyone respects.  38 At 44 years of age, Xadina finally married.  He was a human male, a New Terran citizen, from one of the charities that Xadina was patron over.  And a very dedicated hard working soul.  Jan had not been surprised at Xadina’s choice.  Having met the lad in the palace, and knowing the kind of person Xadina had grown into, Radric Taylor seemed the perfect match for Xadina Kolby.  And they got along extremely well. Their first child, Jason, was born to them a year after the marriage, and Jan now found himself with 2 children and three grand-children, with Kalan siring a daughter just the year before, little Brione. More and more as he aged Jan turned his attention to family duties and saw that as an important part in the role of being a royal family.  He had been carefully tutoring Kalan and, when he passed some time in the future, expected his son to prove an admirable addition to the name of the Kolby family, which he had already time and again proven. But, at 88 Jan still felt young.  Of course, humans lived up to record old ages these days, especially on New Terra, and Chance, who looked much younger than himself now, assured him that she could get another half a century or so out of him, which Jan fondly hoped to be true.  But, he itched now to turn his hand to something else, some other part of his life which needed a memory, a more tangible legacy to leave behind and be remembered by.  And in that idea, he began his memoirs.  He would try to be as accurate as he possibly could, not leaving out even hurtful details, making an honest account.  And, although he had so much to say, he would ensure he delved into the most important issue that had come to the life of Jan Kolby.  Service.  Service to a cause, a higher power, a way of life, which all could look up to.  Inspired by his daughter on that issue he wrote his memoirs with vigour and passion and after 3 years of solid work surmised that he had generally finished them.  All that they really needed now was some final closing words.  But sitting up late one night, having finished the memoirs, he looked at the clock.  It was late, and Chance would be up waiting.  He could write in the morning.  Leave it till then, and then he would be finished, his work complete.  39 “I think, in this long life I have lived, that no greater legacy can I leave behind me than my family.  Those who tread further on into the gene-pool of the Kolby family, displaying in youth the swagger so common to the males, and the maturity so common to the fairer gender.  Yes, family is the greatest legacy any son of Adam and Eve can ever hope to be given.  And for this legacy I thank the One, the father of all, who brought us all to be for his glory and our own.  To him we are all indebted.  I would like to close these memoirs by saying some simple words, and quoting a prayer.  A prayer of a friend most dear to me, now gone from us.  And the words are these:  whatever you do in life, do well.  For the past is gone from us, and the future beckons us on, but limitless days none of us can really claim.  So in the time given to you in this thing called life, live it well and set a mark which will not be soon forgotten.  Whatever else, I encourage you dear reader, do that.  And now, a prayer.  And farewell.” Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,As we forgive those who have trespassed against us.And deliver us lord from every evil.For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, world without end, amen.  40 At 99 Jan was waiting.  Careful with his health, which was still quite good, but carefully and anxiously waiting for the day.  Kolby’s did not often reach the century mark, and while a great celebration had been planned, he did not want to disappoint anyone by not making the date.  So he was extra careful with what he ate, and did not do anything too dangerous.  Those were shenanigans of the past, now well beyond him. And then the day came, the big centenary, and a celebration was held, people all over New Terra joining in.  Their King had made the big one, and all were happy. It was at that time Jan began looking forward, and in a way looking back.  He reflected on the long life of adventure that he had lived.  It had indeed had its pivotal moments.  One key moment after another, each leading him on in a pathway of destiny known only to God himself.  And as he had followed along in that pathway of destiny Jan had grown to trust in the One and learned to place his life in his mighty hands. But now, at 100, and still feeling good, he looked forward.  Whatever else he was not done yet.  Whatever else he still had some years left, and looked now to just how he might fill them in. In a strange way, he still had some unfulfilled youthful ambitions.  And when he joined an indoor cricket team, the team being honoured to have him, he trained methodically and carefully considering his age, but surprised himself by performing well and being a solid contributor to the team’s success that season. He played the game for a couple of years, but then gave it away.  There was something else.  Something which hungered within him, but what he was not sure. He shared his dilemma with his wife who said he was just bored.  He had met all his life challenges, and run out of them.  And now he was just bored, looking for something to do. Nevertheless Jan Kolby continued that way for the next year and a half when news struck.  News which Jan may have hungered for in a most passionate way for a while, but which he now regretted ever longing for.  It was devastating news, and threatened he had worked his whole life to build. The nearest neighbouring galaxy to their own was Andromeda.  But much of Andromeda was largely uncharted, and they had very sketchy details of other ones.  But when, presumably coming from the direction of Andromeda, an enormous fleet had come into their galaxy and was steadily conquering planets and civilizations, all falling before its onslaught, Jan knew the ultimate test had come.  The ultimate and final test for Jan Sebastian Kolby.  PART FOUR ‘The Challenge’   1 Zendar Driavnaki, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of his Imperial Majesty, the most high Cheng Tannia, Lord of the Cheng’tai Empire, conquerors of Andromeda, looked at the figure before him.  Could he really trust an Arcturian, and such a pathetic looking one as this with one of his hands badly mutilated.  Still, the inner region of the Milky Way would be more challenging to defeat and any help they had in being able to overcome their foes would be considered useful by his Lord Tannia whom he served dutifully.The translators were turned on and Zendar spoke to the human.‘You say you know the Emporer of the United Galaxy personally.  That you have met him.’‘And I know his weaknesses,’ responded the human.  ‘The matter is simple.  Entrust to me a certain amount of gold and a high position in your empire and I will show you how to defeat him.  Attack him at his weakest point.’Zendar considered this.  He was an Arcturian, perhaps even a pawn of the enemy, but he would listen for now.  Their goal of universal conquest could proceed much more smoothly with useful information the human perhaps could offer.‘Very well, Bluddhook.  Dak Bluddhook.  We will listen to what you say.’And Dak grinned widely, holding his mutilated hand carefully.  2 Jan looked at the figure before him.  Funnily enough, of all things to survive the invading Andromedan Empire, he didn’t expect an elderly female human.  But Shianna Dessentey was anything but an ordinary woman from what Jan had gotten to know of her.  She had dwelt, so she said, amongst the citizens of the Cheng’tai Empire for several years, before recently returning to her home Galaxy.  And she had come to Jan with information on the culture and plans of the Cheng’tai.  They had been speaking for an hour in the Imperial Palace on New Terra, Jan showing his hospitality to a lady nearly as old as himself.‘But above all, Jan.  Above all things I have shared with you of the Cheng’tai, they favour honour.  Honour is sacred to them.  Sacrosanct.  If they enter into an agreement they would rather die than betray their families honour.  It is central to their whole way of life.  It stems from an early monotheistic religion of their community – the way of the ‘Tai’.  Tai favours honour as the greatest virtue done in the sight of God.  Honour is central to everything.’‘So they believe in the creator,’ commented Jan.‘Most.  But they are like us in many ways as well, with great doubters.’Jan nodded.  He had been forming an opinion of what they were up against and he needed to know both his enemies strengths and weaknesses to ultimately prove successful against them.‘Well, thank you Shianna.  My wife Chance will escort you to your bedroom as we hope to have you stay with us a few nights for further discussions.  But I can see you are tired now so I will let you rest.’‘Thank you,’ she replied, as they returned to a living room were Chance was seated and Jan indicated for Chance to take Shianna to the guest quarters.  When Chance had returned she got down on her knees in front of Jan who had sat down and looked up at him.  ‘Was what she said useful?  Do we have new knowledge for understanding our enemy.’Jan took her hands and looked at her.  ‘I know Arcturia has fallen, sweetie.  I know you are worried for your family.  But this may be a long hard war.  A long, hard and bitter war.  Even now we are working overtime on research and development into our united galaxy military and spending an untold amount of Galaga’s on building our fleet.  It will be close, but while I fear much of the outer sectors will fall by the time we are ready to defend ourselves, when we are ready we will give them a fight to remember.’‘One of the few things I have heard is that slavery and tributes are paid to the Cheng’tai in Andromeda.  Is that true?’ queried Chance.‘It appears to be the case and Shianna has confirmed that.  This Empire is like the ancient Roman one on earth in some ways.  They want to build their civilization but are not necessarily intent on destroying all who stand in their way.  Simply to make them submissive to their authority.’‘Then Arcturia may be safe.’‘For now I wouldn’t worry, Chance.  It is conquered but they won’t destroy it – that is not in their interests.  When they fight a bitter opponent they like to teach them a lesson, but for those who surrender quickly, like Arcturia did, they simply send in forces to rule them.  Our family is safe.  Do not worry.’Chance nodded, trusting her husband, but she was not completely consoled. Jan got to his feet and walked over to the window to look out over the city.  It would be a struggle, and it would be a close thing, but he had faith they would be ready in time.  He just prayed that would be the case.  3 Fortunately for Jan Kolby the inner quadrant did in fact have enough time.  The Cheng’tai from the furthest reaches of the Andromedan galaxy opposing them had taken millennia in building their forces ready for the imperial goal of universal conquest.  It was strange, in a way, as they sought, ultimately, the same goal as the United Galaxy – that of providing peace for all their citizens and a unified economic system in which prosperity could be attained.  But Andromedan civilizations, in general, while about as hostile as those of the Milky Way galaxy on average, had a strong penchant for individuality and uniting them, in Cheng’tai belief, could only be achieved by a strong Empire dedicated to ruling others.  It was in Cheng’tai philosophy in their long term best interests to conquer the other civilizations in their galaxy to provide a framework in which their own ongoing prosperity could be achieved – before it was denied them by any potential opposing force.  The Cheng’tai had studied from a distance the United Galaxy since its formation and feared that one day, potentially, their stance of peace would turn to hostility in a goal of conquering the universe.  And so they had decided upon attacking this galaxy first of all in its own universal goals of conquest after they had completed conquest of Andromeda. But, while they had attacked as soon as possible in the hope of gaining the upper hand they were still somewhat limited in resources and stretched in maintaining the territories they had already gained.  And that, after 10 years of war, is were Jan Kolby saw his advantage.  The Andromedans had not bothered after a few years of conquest of reaching too much further into the United Galaxy.  They had conquered the outer shell and monitored it and were seemingly satisfied with that.  Jan knew, instinctively, why.  The Cheng wanted to prevent the UGs own efforts in establishing a universal federation, and by blocking their frontier to other galaxies the Cheng made null the potential of expansion for the UG.  Because of this they merely, for now, needed to keep the UG in check and one day, when strong enough, complete their mission.  And that was the general conclusion of the high council on New Terra and the personal thoughts of Jan Kolby.  But, as the Andromedan enemy likely new, they had been steadily building their resources and would soon be ready for the counter-attack.  The UG had invested heavily in research and development and had much new space military technology to use against their foes.  It would be soon, the counter-attack.  Soon.  And then, if successful, they may have to begin the sensitive path of establishing protocols of peace with their Andromedan adversary.  For if not that a long, bitter and bloody war awaited both of them and Jan was sure that was something neither side really wanted or desired.  4 ‘So what exactly does it do?’ queried Jan to the Allegiance scientific military officer in front of him.‘Well sir, it is like an old fashioned gun in a way.  By that I mean it utilises metal, which is the best choice for the ammunition.  We could use other substances if needed but metal works best.  Essentially we have balls of metal as large as, so far, 100 metres in diameter which are placed in the vortex and flung at the opposition.  An old fashioned cannon in a sense.  But the real advantage to these cannons is that they fling the metal at incredible velocities, so fast that they will break through easily any force shield and metal hulls of ships and cripple them completely.  In brief, we create a gravitational force through our gravitons behind the ammunition and in front of it and fling it through space like a gravitational slingshot towards where they need to go.  Traditional phaser technology and nuclear technology are somewhat effective, but can be defended against quite easily.  Sound phasers, sending out incredibly loud noise blasts are somewhat effective but can also be neutralized.  But the oldest of all military weapons, an old fashioned cannon, when fired incredibly fast is brutally effective and practically impossible to defend against.  And it becomes more effective against our foes bigger ships with the larger ammunition.’ Jan chuckled to himself.  Of all things – of all things the UG could possibly conceive of – an old fashioned cannon seemed like the strangest of choices.  But funnily enough, with the sheer power available to them with graviton technology, it may be the most effective weapon at their disposal. ‘I would like to state, sir, that we have considered so many other forms of attack, including the various electronic signals, radio and so on and various other forms of attack which utilise wave technology and most of them can be defended against.  Biological attack is difficult in space and not that effective.  As strange as it sounds sir and as old fashioned as it may be, brutal cannons seems to be our best weapon.  We have invested heavily and have a large array of weaponry based on such graviton technology.’‘Very good,’ said Jan, and saluted to the officer, who turned and left.  He continued staring out over the vast weapons manufacturing facility and thought to himself that they would be ready soon.  It was with old fashioned brute power they would be fighting this war.  But it was the best they had come up with and hopefully, of all types of attack they could formulate, would get the job done.  5  Jan was 112 when the counter-attack began.  But he didn’t feel his age and in fact felt obligated not to.  New Terran medicine meant if he did all the right things he could still expect another decade or so of good health and that was of fundamental importance to Jan Kolby.  They were depending on him, now, the United Galaxy.  He was their figurehead, their champion in a way.  Sure, he could be replaced, but he knew the effect he had on the morale of people and wanted to ensure his dietary and exercise regime were perfect to give him as many more years in what could be a long war as possible.  His son, Kalan, was now getting old as well and looked like he would succeed Jan in his work, but for now the responsibility belonged to Jan Kolby, and he would do his best for all he looked over. They had decided to attack some of the weaker Cheng’tai held sectors first of all and, fortunately, they were met with only minimal resistance.  It was UG policy to take prisoners of war as they had no intent of showing themselves a barbaric people and, after the first successful waves of attack they had to deal with a few hundred thousand Cheng’tai prisoners which were dutifully sent to inner quadrant planets prepared for this work. After a year of such hostilities Jan was thinking that the Cheng’tai may have practically given up in their attempts to hold the Milky Way, but inevitably a response came and the Cheng met up with a major portion of their fleet in the ‘Skartaris’ Sector, in what became known as the Battle for the Skats, what Skartarins were known as.  It was a brutal three month campaign, with enormous casualties on both side, but as the Andromedans gradually withdrew Jan knew they had achieved a costly but decisive victory.  Skartaris came back to the UG and finally officially joined the UG as they had been informal members only and, with the return of the Skartaris Sector the UG was ready to plow ahead with its major attack – the battle for Quadrant Three.  Most of the other Quadrants were now again in UG control, but Quadrant Three was the closest quadrant to Andromeda and that was now the focus of the next series of engagements.  But this time Jan knew victory would not come easily.  The Cheng’tai, from their surveillance reports, had been steadily building forces in quadrant three which meant they were settling in for a long war.  It would be a war which would test the resolve of the UG in its ambition for galactic unity and freedom, but it was a war of necessity and everyone knew they could not back down.  6 Dak Bluddhook looked over the various reports from Cheng’tai surveillance on the various appointments to Allegiance military.  They had a number of undercover operatives who supplied them with the information they needed as they presumed the opposition now had as well.  He was looking for something, something which he had anticipated finding and now, looking at one particular notice, smiled.  ‘Kalan Kolby, appointed Vice-Commander to the UG Allegiance command ship Wolfklaw II.’  Bingo.  He had what he needed. *   *   *   *   * Zendar did not usually like his sleep being interrupted but when the junior officer persuaded him that the human Dak Bluddhook needed to see him urgently he finally agreed.‘What is it Bluddhook?’ said Zendar, coming into the official lounge of the Command Cruiser ‘The Imperial Cheng’.‘Good news, Zendar.  Very good news.  I have found something which you need to know.’  He handed him the electronic tableau and Zendar read the writing.  He looked to Dak.‘Kalan Kolby?  Is there a relation to Jan Kolby?’‘He’s his son.’Zendar nodded and stroked his chin.  ‘And how is this useful to us?’‘I kidnapped Kalan once.  Nearly got away with it before Jan rescued him and flung me into a pit monster which mutilated this hand,’ he said, waving his mutilated hand in front of Zendar.  ‘But the point is this;  Kolby will do anything for his son’s safety.  He will come and rescue him and put other lives in danger to preserve his own seed.’‘Your point?’‘Make it a point of capturing the Wolfklaw Mark II.  Capture Kolby alive.  We will have enormous bargaining power with the UG if we are successful.’Zendar again stroked his chin and nodded.  It was one of the most basic of all tactics, ransom.  But it could work wonders for them.  He slapped Bluddhook on the back with his large hand and said, ‘Come.  Let us go get some Cheng Ale.  This could be a good night.’  Bluddhook nodded, following the commander, gingerly holding his mutilated hand.  7 ‘I am afraid, Chance, that of all the regions in quadrant 3, Arcturia will be one of the most heavily defended now.  It is right out near the rim and one of the first ports of call from Andromeda.  It won’t be taken back easily.  But what am I saying, we may not get to Arcturia for years.  This campaign is really only just under way and there are thousands of battles still ahead of us.  I just can’t say when we will see our family again.’Chance Kolby nodded, saddened somewhat, but used to the situation.‘I know this war has cost us so many lives so far, Jan.  I know that.  And I know the Andromedans are unlikely to relent of their goals.  But can we somehow sneak a cruiser into Arcturia and rescue the family?’‘I am afraid it will likely be too heavily guarded.  And if we run the risk of letting the enemy know I have family on Arcturia their lives will inevitably be in far greater danger.  I hope you understand.  I mean, I am taking a risk already with Kalan on the Wolfklaw II.  If they knew who he was, well, they could use it against us.  But I don’t think they do know.  There are numerous Kolby’s in Allegiance, after all.’‘But not that many Kalan Kolby’s.’‘No,’ he replied softly, trying to console his wife. The two of them were currently on the Allegiance command ship, ‘The Spectre’, on the edge of the inner quadrant, not far from quadrant 3.  The Cheng’tai did not control all of quadrant 3, but most of the outer parts of it.  They had yet to delve completely into the inner galaxy, fortunately enough for the UG.  The last few months Jan had been co-ordinating, along with his military officers, the gradual repulsion of the Cheng’tai from quadrant 3.  They’d had some success in various sectors, but so had the Cheng.  At this stage it was something of an even battlefield with a victor too hard to yet predict. By this time Jan had received a large number of surveillance reports from the activities in Andromeda of the Cheng.  It seemed that they had not spent all their resources in trying to win the Milky Way, but were securing up their own galaxy and moving into others around them.  The UG was just one of the Cheng’s goals by the looks of it.  And now, remembering the earlier viewpoint that the Cheng had surrounded the UGs inner quadrant with the goal of preventing the spread of their growing Universal Federation, Jan had been giving thought to just that idea.  Quadrant’s 1, 2 and 4 were now largely under the UG dominion.  Most stellar systems in these quadrants had joined the UG now upon liberation from their Andromedan oppressors.  Jan didn’t really expect them all to remain in the long term should they prove ultimately successful against the Cheng.  But with the UG now at its largest membership point, they were ready to approach alternative Galaxies in an attempt at enlarging their galactic federation to a universal one.  And while the Andromedans were the thorn in their side to perhaps dissuade other nearby galaxies taking an interest it was just that threat itself – the threat of the Cheng – which just might prove a useful bargaining chip for the other galaxies own best interests.  And if that were the case a growing United Federation of Galaxies might just be in its formative stages.  Time would soon tell.  8 The galaxy which was commonly known as ‘Shemray’ throughout the UG, on the opposing side to Andromeda, was the first galaxy in the new agenda of the UG to begin its ‘United Federation of Galaxies and Stellar Systems’, commonly abbreviated to UFGSS.  They had known for many years that Shemray had millions of loose federations of systems, but no concrete United Galactic system apart, funnily enough, from a concoction of trade agreements in the inner part of Shemray.  As they had no particular united voice it would indeed be difficult.  The UG almost, in this sense, knew they had to practically unite Shemrayans themselves, but this would only be achieved in a piecemeal fashion, one system at a time.  But, fortunately, being a galaxy of systems themselves, still with enormous reserves despite the hostilities of the Andromedans, they had enough resources to take on the job.  And so sending out millions of invitations in the form of well spoken and prepared ambassadors, the UG began its attempt to bring Shemray into the struggle with Andromeda, their unhidden agenda. Jan had never been busier in his life.  His wisdom was called upon in all sorts of negotiations and he had trained personally so many officers and politicians in the Assembly of the UG that he had lost count of who was doing what and were.  It was a big universe after all. For a while they had ceased in their hostilities with the Andromedans who were only mildly interested in winning back lost territories, more concerned with their other affairs.  And in those few years leading up to Jan’s celebrated 120th birthday the UG began making successful inroads into Shemray in the building of the UFGSS.  So successful and so welcomed were they after a while that they also began moving into other nearby galaxies.  The UG was expanding now, officially becoming the UFGSS, and it was believed, soon, that Andromeda would no longer pose the threat it once had been.  Negotiations for a peaceful withdrawal were inevitable Jan felt as the UFGSS continued its steady growth. But, as they gradually found out, Andromeda was growing in strength as well.  In the time the UFGSS had grown into existence Andromeda was becoming stronger militarily within its own borders and were readying themselves for a new push into the Milky Way.  Their first decisive front had gone well enough for his Imperial Cheng Majesty, Lord Tannia, and signalled a time for consolidation and growth.  Their next wave, the Cheng believed, would go a long way towards the vision of conquest they had long held to.  And the UFGSS knew another fresh round of hostilities was coming.  It was now headed, they felt, towards intergalactic war, rather than just galactic.  With the expansion of the UFGSS bigger things were coming, and both sides knew they had to be ready for the greater conflict.  9 Kalan surveyed the scene in front of him.  Carnage everywhere.  Cruisers, both Cheng and UFGSS, all destroyed and floating in space.  Thousands of them.  It had been the biggest recorded battle so far in the war and a whole sector virtually, Sector G19 of Quadrant 3, had been affected by the battle in some way or another.  He gave the signal for those ships under his command to begin the search for survivors, both Cheng and UFGSS and, in a sombre mood, surveyed the scene in front of him.  His Vice-Commander onboard the Wolfklaw II, John Stoke, came up and saluted him.‘Search and rescue is underway.  We could be here for weeks though, months even.  It is always difficult searching for life signs amongst so much carnage.’‘I always wonder,’ began Kalan, ‘why the Cheng seem so disinterested in rescuing their fallen.’‘I think it is because we do that for them.  It alleviates their responsibility.’‘You would think that contrary to their sense of honour.’‘Perhaps honour ultimately gives way to pragmatism.  That is not surprising in war, commander.’‘No, I guess you are right John.  I guess you’re right.’‘Sir, can I suggest a quick survey of the battlefield first, though.  There might be some surviving enemy vessels waiting in ambush.  They are known for that tactic.’‘Proceed vice Commander,’ said Kalan, saluting the officer, who saluted in return and went off to his duties. Standing there, surveying the carnage, Kalan thought back to something his father had said upon his commission to the Wolfklaw II.‘You will see death, Kalan.  You will see death.  And while your soul may despair of the seemingly pointless waste of life, remember this.  In all the battles of human history there is a winner and a loser.  And it is ultimately the winner who paves the pathways of history from then on, regardless of who is morally right.  Do not lose, son of mine.  Be cautious, vigilant and defiant were necessary.  But do not lose the fight.  Our hopes depend upon you for the future of mankind and our galaxy.’They had been strong words for Kalan to take in but they spoke of the wisdom of his father who had studied history for so long and had a strong sense of the human quest and vision.  If they were to survive this fight he would indeed have to be cautious, vigilant and defiant were necessary.  And he would have to inspire those under him with the wisdom his father was so famous for.  Trillions were depending upon him.  10 John Stoke sat at the command deck, listening to his various junior officers comments.  They had spent the last few hours sending out their probes to monitor the battle scene.  So far they had detected no functioning vessels, but had received numerous calls for help from survivors onboard fallen vessels.  One thing looked suspicious, a nearby asteroid belt which could potentially hide a small enemy fleet, but he eventually decided to ignore it.  The surviving Cheng had fled the scene – there would be no point hiding there for an ambush as they would be outnumbered now and probably would have known that.  But he still surveyed the belt dubiously, noting the erratic signals coming from it on the readout.  Probably nothing, he told himself, and went back to his surveillance probes. *   *   *   *   * Commander Zhani Dranik of the Cheng space cruiser ‘The Invincible’ was ready.  The enemy had not sent in any probes to investigate the asteroid belt were they were hidden, which worked in their favour.  It was a risk they had taken, but so far they had been successful.  The ‘Invincible’ was a specially prepared cruiser for one particular task.  A lightning quick engagement with the Wolfklaw II, boarding and kidnapping of Kalan Kolby, and a return to Cheng space.  The plan had been formulated for a number of years now, originating with the Arcturian Dak Bluddhook.  They had the capabilities for the task – and in a few moments would begin what they had prepared years for.  Zhani silently watched the viewer in front of him and prayed a silent prayer to his god for success. *   *   *   *   * The attack came at lightning quick speed.  A Cheng cruiser suddenly appeared in front of the Wolfklaw II, docked at the front and blew a hole in the vessel.  Shock troopers boarded the ship, shot everyone they came across and found Kalan Kolby sleeping in his quarters.  When he woke at their presence Zhani Dranik entered the room, took off his visor, and smiled.  ‘You will be the guest of his Imperial majesty the Lord Tannia from now on, Kalan Kolby.  Son of Jan Kolby.’  Kalan nodded and got to his feet.  His fate had come to pass. *   *   *   *   * It was only a few days later when Jan got the news of Kalan’s kidnapping.  But while he was able to put on a brave face personally, Chance was beside herself.  She’d had her son taken from her once in her life already.  A second time was both unthinkable and unbearable.  But this was war, Jan reminded himself.  And in war, sometimes, unthinkable things could happen.  11 Kalan was nervous.  They had long since left his home galaxy and were just now entering Andromeda from what he could tell from viewing space, but they had not kept him informed of were they were travelling.  He guessed he was being taken, as the Cheng commander Dranik had said, to meet Lord Tannia, or taken to some or another Cheng homeworld.  He knew, then, he was ransom.  A bargaining chip in the war.  Somehow they had learned he was Jan Kolby’s son and he would be used to win some concession or another in the ongoing conflict.  Of that much Kalan was certain. It was 3 months since the kidnapping, and well into Andromeda, that they finally unlocked his cell door and gave him full access to the main decks of the ship apart from the command section.  It seemed they now viewed him as no threat, so far were they into Andromeda. It was in the food hall of the ship, were he was eating his breakfast, that of some sort of bird eggs and a meat he was not sure about, that someone old and familiar finally graced his company.  And when Kalan Kolby saw Dak Bluddhook mosey on up to his table he just put his head in his hands and swore to himself.‘Now now, Kalan,’ began the elderly Dak.  ‘Is that any way to greet an old friend?’‘You have never been my friend, Bluddhook.’‘Come now, we go back together for years.  We’re old comrades from the League of Piracy as I see it.’‘Then why are you working for the Cheng’tai?’‘A fellow has got to make a buck.  And besides they have paid me handsomely for the information I have provided on you and your father.  Enough to live like a king in a small Cheng republic somewere, they assure me.’‘Dream on,’ replied Kalan.‘There’s no dreaming about it, young Mr Kolby.  It is reality, believe me.  It is reality.’‘Don’t you care that your family on Arcturia are prisoners to the Cheng?  They have lost that thing we all need – our freedom.  Under the Cheng our people will always be second class citizens.  It’s what Imperialists always do in the end.’‘Arcturian’s are pragmatic souls as well, Kalan Kolby.  You should know, it’s in your blood.  Anyway, our race will survive.  Empires come and go – they always have and they always will.  It’s because life is always springing up people like your father.  People with ideals.  With dreams.  And they inevitably win over the masses with their ideas of freedom and democracy, and unity and law.  They are the great leaders all civilizations are made of after all.’‘And you know this and yet you still support the Cheng?’ said Kalan, bewildered.‘Hey, as I said, you make your bucks were you can get them.  It’s every man for himself as far as I see it.  But, just so you will know, Kalan Kolby, I have faith in your father.  I mean, personally I sort of should hate his guts; he gave me this hand after all,’ said Dak, holding up his mutilated hand.  ‘But it doesn’t really bother me.  That’s the stuff of life in my business, after all.  But, as I said, I know your father.  One way or another he will get you out of this mess.  So I may as well make a quick buck while I can.’‘It is true what my father says about you.  A man without scruples.’‘Oh, I have got them alright.  Every Arcturian has.  But I am just choosy, Kalan.  I am just choosy.’Dak looked at the meal in front of Kalan and got up, walked over to the serving section, and returned with a plate full of some meat and vegetables.  Returning to Kalan he said one final thing.  ‘I have a lesson to teach you, dear Kalan Kolby.  The good guys don’t always win.  And the bad guys don’t always either.  It is the smart guys, the ones who figured the situation properly, which end up on top.  It always has been.  Don’t be naïve, Kalan Kolby.  Don’t be naïve.’  Dak returned to his meal, as did Kalan, who thought quietly on those last words.  12 Jan knew that his son, one day, would be used as a bargaining chip.  But he also knew he had to keep the bigger picture in mind.  If they were ultimately to prove successful against the Cheng they needed to not worry so much about things like the kidnapping of officials for hostage, as horrible as that may be.  Jan knew he had to sacrifice the concerns he had for his son’s safety for the greater good.  That much was demanded of him as head of the UG. And with that in mind Jan began pushing more than ever for the growth of the UFGSS.  That was the future, to Jan Kolby.  It was the future beyond the UG and beyond even the Andromedan threat which he hoped was only a minor setback in the history of his human family.  The UFGSS represented Universal civilization.  It was inevitable, now, as they were approaching a critical stage in universally societal development.  Civilizations were clashing, now, more than ever.  And larger federations of systems and galaxies were, so it was concluded from the information they had in their region of the universe, coming to be and seeking a new life for themselves.  It seemed, to Jan, the sentient species of God’s creation were now wanting to make themselves all known to each other.  Almost like a universal awakening.  And with that in mind Jan was reminded again and again of the words of scripture which, ultimately, taught the way of peace.  Evil reigned in life and in conflict of civilizations.  That seemed an inevitable truth.  But peace must be sought, for the good of the whole, for true civilization to emerge.  In the end, there could be no other way. And with this in his mind and heart Jan Kolby, Head of the United Galaxy and chief spokesman for the emerging United Federation of Galaxies and Stellar Systems, knew the kidnapping of his son, while important personally, must give way to the greater good.  Andromeda, ultimately, would prove no threat.  They were a thorn for his own galaxy, but they could not conquer the universe in the end.  Jan knew that instinctively.  No sentient species possibly could.  It was his job, as he saw it, to promote the ways of peace and harmony.  Andromedans had a high sense of honour, Jan knew that much was true.  And, perhaps in that honour, and that sense of devotion to a higher power, Jan Kolby had an opportunity.  In some way, through appealing to the Cheng’s sense of virtue, perhaps, just perhaps, an end to the conflict could be negotiated.  They wanted the same thing in the end, did the Cheng and the UG.  If Jan could meet the Lord Tannia and persuade him that their interests were better off in Unity than opposition then maybe, just maybe, they could bring an end to the madness.  And in this brave new direction Jan Kolby found himself inevitably moving forward, with the hopes and dreams of a galaxy behind him.  13 Before the Assembly of the UFGSS on New Terra, Jan Kolby made this speech.‘Counsellors, Ambassadors, dignitaries, friends.  I come before you today with a new plan.  And yet, while it is new to our current situation, it is one of the oldest plans of history, the plan which ultimately survives when others have fallen short.  It is the plan of peace.  We will never defeat Andromeda, that much is certain.  And while we may repel them from our galaxy for a while, they will inevitably return.  I think all of us know this truth.  And Andromeda themselves have seemingly dug in for the long hall – they want their empire and will work to achieve it.  But empires and federations come at a cost, often.  And that is the blood of our daughters and sons lost in the futility of war and conflict.  My friends, this should not be so.  The plan I bring you today is a simple plan – the plan of peace.  With the growth of the United Federation of Galaxies and Stellar Systems we have a new and important bargaining chip with Andromeda.  As our Federation grows and continues to expand their own goal of bringing us into conformity with their rulership diminishes.  And they know this.  But likewise, in other areas of space, they grow as well.  There is, I feel, only one answer to both of our dilemmas.  It is the pathway of peace and unity.  Only in the field of diplomacy and honest discussion can this conflict be resolved and a new and lasting solution of peace and a united system of Governance come to the fore.  It is in both of our best interests, and we know this.  So I ask you today, friends, read my proposal and come back and vote upon it.  It is our last best hope for a free universe.  Thank you.’ The applause was predictable and lasted a couple of minutes, but as Jan took his seat he wondered just how seriously he had been taken.  There were elements in the Assembly which desired the war to teach Andromeda the lesson they would never back down from a fight and would ultimately vanquish them.  But there were cooler heads as well.  Heads which, Jan hoped, saw the wisdom in a peaceful solution.  He just hoped and prayed those cooler heads, in the end, would be the ones which prevailed.  14 The counsel returned 3 weeks later and voted.  There was overwhelming support for Jan’s agenda with few voting against it.  Everyone liked the idea of an end to war with a peaceful solution.  The next part, though, was problematic.  Bringing the Cheng, with whom they as of yet had had no formal communications, to the discussion table.  This could be problematic, but Jan had a solution.  He would take the Wolfklaw, alone, and fly into Andromeda.  The ultimate act of peace.  No space cruiser would follow him and he alone would negotiate with the Cheng for the solution of peace he hoped both parties desired. Chance refused him many times, insisting the idea was fraught with danger and giving him countless reasons why he should send someone else.  But Jan would have nothing of it.  ‘They may consider it an insult to send anyone less than myself, dearest.  It is something I have to do.’‘Then I am coming with you.’  And she would not be persuaded otherwise, so Jan ultimately assented.  Xadina likewise insisted on accompanying them but at that point Jan insisted no other members of the family join them.  3 Kolby’s were more than enough. The Wolfklaw went through a series of renovations and upgrades, especially with the installation of the newer ‘Gamma Type’ engine.  It would now have little problem making the trip as long as they followed the co-ordinates. As they got under way Jan prayed a silent prayer to the One and placed his trust in him.  He doubted he would succeed otherwise. The journey to quadrant 3 was mostly uneventful, but when they finally encountered the Cheng at the battlelines and made their mission known, the Cheng simply dispatched a cruiser to accompany them and show them the way to their homeworld.  It seemed to Jan a sign that they too were willing, now, to talk peace. The trip out of the Milky Way was daunting in a way.  As they left the Rim of the Galaxy, something which Rimwalker had called home for so long, Jan felt he was on a big trip, one of the long distance bus trips of his youth.  And, despite his ancient age, felt excited somewhat.  It was not every day you traveled to another galaxy after all. As they entered Andromeda Jan sensed something, though.  A different feel, a different ambience to this galaxy.  It was like the Milky Way in many ways, but it felt different.  Almost similar to the Cheng in some ways.  It was something he couldn’t quite explain apart from some sort of universal animistic mystery. As they neared the Cheng homeworld were the cruiser was escorting them too, the cruiser sent them a message to proceed on certain co-ordinates and bid them farewell.  It seemed they were welcomed guests, now, and treated as such.  Signs, so far, were good. They docked at the spaceport for the city known as ‘Li’Cheng’, the capital of this planet.  The Cheng had not explained wether this was their ancient homeworld or not, but it was the one they had taken them to and Jan assumed it may have been.  After landing, and opening the ship doors, they descended the ramp to be greeted by a small entourage of Cheng officials – about a dozen or so, with a small military unit guarding them.  One particular Cheng official came forward and announced himself.  ‘I am Zhaki Nakia.  You will accompany me.  The Lord Tannia is expecting you, but will not see you until tomorrow.  Please come honoured guests.’  The 3 Kolby’s followed their escort and were taken to a large vehicle outside the port and driven to their guest accommodation.  All the time Jan was silently pleased things were going this well.  He could only hope that the morrow would bring the fruitful discussions he desired.  Time would only tell.  15 That evening the 3 Kolby’s were introduced to fine Cheng food.  It was an exotic mix of herbs and spices and meats and vegetables.  The Cheng were very big on meats and vegetables so they learned from their hosts.  There was also an assortment of new liquors to try, Jan attempting to portray himself the gentleman and refusing, but inevitably succumbing to a wine like drink his wife recommended.  Zhaki Nakia was their host and introduced them to much in the way of Cheng culture and society.‘Yes, it is as you say Sir Kolby.  We Cheng do favour honour.  But how can I put this.  The honour these days is more of a formal ritual in society.  It no longer runs as deep as it once did.  We are still, though, an honourable people, but more practical in these enlightened times.’Jan nodded, gaining a greater appreciation for the Cheng.‘Will the Lord Tannia be interested in the subject of our discussion?  Will Lord Tannia want to discuss peace?’The Cheng looked at Jan Kolby carefully and remembered his place in Cheng society.  ‘It is not really for me to answer that Sir Kolby.  But if I dared I would say this one word:  perhaps.’That was what Jan had wanted to hear and was somewhat satisfied.  It seemed, after all, there may be a sentiment amongst the Cheng for this way of peace.  And hopefully the morrow would bring the answer.Zhaki spoke up.  ‘I have been instructed to tell you that your son will be a guest with us tomorrow when we meet the Lord Tannia.’‘Will he be returned to us?’‘I am afraid that I cannot say.  The Lord Tannia can be very merciful, but alas he can also be very judgemental.  It is the way of the rulers of the Cheng.  You will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.’‘Very good.’The rest of the meal passed and Zhaki gradually opened up more and more about Cheng society.  The Cheng themselves were quite similar to humans in many ways, not the least the strong resemblance.  They were, on average, about half a foot shorter than humans but their body structures and facial features were quite similar the notable difference being the very deep red skins.  They also appeared to have no body hair, but usually wore elaborate head coverings.  Cheng society was a dichotomy of both Patriarchal and Matriarchal authority.  In certain older Cheng cultures the mother figure was revered as the giver of life while the man was seen as serving the mother to provide for the family.  Yet, in total contradiction, there were religious movements which were totally based on Patriarchal authority.  And, from what Jan was starting to discern, more modernistic trends away from either being a figure of authority in a more reformist or democratic household.  They were also very dedicated to sports and competition, a way in which much of their codes of honour were displayed.  Ultimately, to Jan, they seemed an understandable enough people and he felt he was learning the kinds of things he needed to learn to assist him in his discussions the following day.  If he could relate to the Cheng, tap into their consciousness, he had a far better chance of success.  This much he knew instinctively.  And as he returned to his guest quarters, chatting with Chance, his mind was on the words he would speak tomorrow.  He would be formal and honourable and then, well, anything more than that was in the hands of the One.  Either way he would find out soon enough.  16 The following morning a large number of expensive looking vehicles arrived outside their quarters.  They had been staying in an official visiting diplomat’s guest home and were now to be taken to meet the Lord Tannia at, of all things, a bull-fight.  Or the approximate equivalent in Cheng culture.  They were greeted that morning by an elaborate host of Cheng officials, each of them eager to introduce themselves to the Guardian of the United Galaxy, all extremely polite and honourable. As they drove through the city headed for the sporting arena Chance commented that things seemed to be going well.  ‘Perhaps they have had a change of heart already?’‘There is a saying, Chance my dear.  Don’t count your chickens before they have hatched.’  Chance smirked at her husband’s comment. They arrived at the sporting arena and Zhaki escorted the three of them up to the main sitting box to watch the event.  Zhaki informed them that the Lord Tannia would arrive shortly and to simply enjoy the show. ‘It was a brutal affair.  The bull itself was indeed something approximating a bull, but perhaps looked more like a buffalo.  The Cheng warrior was dressed all in red and had a number of small sword like blades in a satchel at his side.  There was no cape but that didn’t deter the bull from charging the warrior, especially when he occasionally rang a small bell to attract the bull’s attention.  There were 3 scheduled fights that morning and it was during the second match in which the Lord Tannia arrived. There was an official announcement from the broadcasting box and the crowd stood and cheered there honoured leader.  And as he entered the box Jan was most surprised to find that the man himself was quite young.  Perhaps only about 30 in human equivalent.  He guessed, then, that Tannia had been but a child when the conflict had begun. Tannia took his seat and sat there for a number of minutes watching the bullfighting, clapping softly occasionally.  Jan was distracted by him for a little while then returned to watching the fight.  It was then that Tannia spoke up.‘Peace is also a Cheng virtue, Sir Jan Kolby.  Like humanity, from what we have learned of you, the Cheng value peace and lawfulness quite highly.’Jan turned to Tannia who had begun speaking with him and bowed his head.  He decided on a response.‘Then it seems quite perplexing, Lord Tannia, that our respective empires find themselves ensconced in a conflict which has run for so many years now.’Lord Tannia smiled, and lit up what appeared to be a smoking pipe.  He offered another pipe to Jan who accepted the pipe and took a smoke, coughing instantly which made the Lord Tannia chuckle a little.‘Yet Empires are not formed, it seems, in either of our cultures without conflict.  Your ancient Greek and Roman Empires knew much bloodshed to achieve their goals, did they not?’‘And the British too,’ responded Jan.  ‘But, as much as I hate to condone some of the barbarity that such Empires undertook, one thing they valued above all was peace.  Their enemies, then, were seen as a threat to their way of lives, which in their views justified the building of their legacies.  But I would to stress something to yourself Lord Tannia.  You have seen the Milky Way for some time now.  You know our ways.  They are not that dissimilar to your own.  We do not need to be in conflict.  This much I know is true.  In a united Government – in a United Federation, such as the one we have recently initiated – the best interests of both the Milky Way and the Cheng can indeed be served.’Tannia smiled, almost seeming to acknowledge Jan’s point, and returned to gazing at the match.  After a while Tannia spoke again.‘There is someone I would like you to meet.  Actually, two persons.’  He made a signal and from the side door Kalan appeared.  Jan got to his feet instantly as did Chance and Xadina and came, ever so relieved, and hugged their son and brother.  Jan looked him in the eye.  ‘Have they been treating you well?’Kalan nodded.  ‘It is almost like a holiday, dad.  The Cheng are very polite and friendly.  I don’t really know why you are here, but try diplomacy.  I think it will work on them.’  Jan nodded and then a voice hailed him from the door.‘Jan Kolby.  Jan fucking Kolby.’  Jan turned, saw the speaker of the voice, and put his hand to his head and just shook it.  He looked at Dak Bluddhook and said, ‘Why aren’t you dead?’Dak grinned.  ‘Some of us are hard to kill, Jan.  But you should know that.  You are one of the hardest to take out.’Jan turned to Tannia.  ‘You know this man?’Tannia smiled.  ‘He brought us your son.’Jan turned back to Dak.  ‘How much did they pay you?’‘Enough Kolby.  But relax.  I am sure you are now on top of things.  No need to worry about old Dak Bluddhook.  On my honour, believe me there is nothing to concern yourself about me.’  Jan swore to himself and just then, the Lord Tannia, who had been contemplating Jan’s words of peace, as he had been doing for many months since hearing news of Jan’s initial offer when the Cheng claimed the Wolfklaw, came to a sudden decision.  Honour.  Yes, honour would decide the question.  Honour was the hallmark of Cheng society so honour would have the final say.  Lord Tannia got to his feet and looked at both Jan and Dak.  He spoke,‘Sir Jan Kolby.  If we are to have lasting peace between us I will need to know if you are indeed a man of honour.  It seems Dak Bluddhook has made that claim and he is an adversary of yourself.  I have decided upon this.  If you can prove yourself more honourable than Dak Bluddhook, whose ways we Cheng are familiar with, then you will have your agreement of peace.’‘And how do I do that?’ asked Jan, anxious to learn the final solution to his problem.Tannia gazed down at the arena.  He turned to them, ‘We will have a blood duel.  To the death.  Between you and Dak Bluddhook.  If you win, you will be esteemed by us as a man of honour, and you will have your agreement.  But if you lose, we will continue our hostilities.  Your family will be returned to your galaxy, but the war will continue.’Jan looked at Dak, who just shrugged.  ‘Hey, Kolby, it suits me well enough.  I didn’t think they would give me all that gold without some sort of struggle.’Jan looked at Tannia, and confirmed it.  ‘We will have peace?’‘We will have peace,’ responded Tannia.  And Jan nodded.  17 Jan faced his opponent.  He was armed with 2 of the swords the bullfighters used, as was Dak.  In a funny way as he had killed Dak already once before, and left him for stranded another time, this third time should be easier.  But it wasn’t.  It was the hardest of the lot.  They circled and the man over 120 years old, who looked in his mid 60s by ancient standards, surveyed his opponent.  Dak was old too, Jan unsure of his exact age.  But Arcturian’s were capable of living a lot longer than human beings.  Jan manoeuvred one of the blades in his hand into a striking position, as if stabbing someone from above, and moved in to try and hit Dak.  But Dak raised one of his daggers and defended the blow, the blades sparking electricity.  He went back to circling and tried another tactic – a thrust.  But Dak managed to evade him and they started circling again.  But this was a bit too much for both of them and they started puffing, which Lord Tannia noticed and grinned to himself because of it. The final thrust came with a feint to Dak’s left side, but with a jolting punch into his right.  Dak fell to the ground, lost control of both his blades which Jan instantly picked up and Dak was instantly at the mercy of Kolby.  Kolby looked down at him.  He could not kill him, he knew that much.  He was a fighter, a rogue, even a bounty hunter – but a cold blooded killer, which this much seemed to be – well that was not in the nature of Jan Kolby.  He stood over his victim and looked up at Lord Tannia and shouted.  ‘I will not kill him but the victory is mine.’Lord Tannia looked down at them and spoke.  ‘Blood is required in a blood duel.’  Jan thought on that and instantly bent down and cut a small shiver on Dak’s arm, drawing just a little blood.  He held the blood up for Lord Tannia and shouted ‘You have your blood.’Lord Tannia considered the situation.  The human had fought fairly and with honour.  He was the superior athlete to the Arcturian so in his grace the Lord Tannia would honour the blood debt.‘You have fought bravely, Sir Jan Kolby.  You have thought with a galaxy depending upon you and still would not kill to achieve the peace you desired.  With such a man as this we Cheng now feel we can enter into a relationship of mutual understanding with those who are now our former enemy.’There was a cheer from the crowd and Chance in the box breathed a sigh of relief.  Jan looked down at Dak, helped him to his feet, and said.  ‘Its your lucky day, Dak Bluddhook.  But you’ll never change will you.’Dak dusted himself off and replied, ‘Not if I can help it.’  18 Jan handled the draft negotiations with Lord Tannia personally for the protocols for peace with Kalan and Xadina being witnesses on behalf of the UFGSS to the draft treaty.  The agreement came down, in the end, to a memorandum of understanding.  The UFGSS would not interfere with Cheng jurisdiction of Andromeda, a point which Jan did not really like as he favoured freedom for the civilizations under Cheng control.  But he realized that objective could be met in the long term and for now to agree to peace rather than quibble over something he had no immediate control over anyway.  In return the Cheng would become associate members of the UFGSS, not full members, but with the same voting abilities as other members and with many other rights, but few responsibilities apart from agreeing to the standards of United Galactic law which would be gradually worked out between the two parties.  They also began the formation of a trade agreement between the two galaxies which would set the seen, ultimately, for an agreed upon united currency.  But all that was years away.  For now they generally agreed upon an end to hostilities, the withdrawal of Cheng troops from the Milky Way, and the setting up of a tribunal to minister articles of compensation for UG losses which the Cheng agreed upon to pay, surprising Jan who had just nudged at the idea. Ultimately what Jan had wished to achieve in Andromeda he had largely done and as they were again accompanied by Zhaki Nakia back to UG space. All the way home Chance congratulated her husband and at their first port of call, Arcturia, they dropped off their one passenger, Dak Bluddhook, and caught up with their family.  Arcturia was free again and the celebrations had been planet wide.  Jan was the head of many official functions in his few weeks in Arcturia, finishing with Arcturia, at Jan’s invitation, accepting membership in the UFGSS. It seemed for Jan Kolby that in his latter years life had thrown him a challenge.  A great and difficult challenge but one, fortunately, he had come through and dealt with in true heroic style.  All that lay before them now was, hopefully, peace.  Peace and the continued expansion of the UFGSS  19 It was two years later, when all the hoo-hah had died down, that Jan finally felt his age.  And how old did he feel.  He was 125 now and felt like old Moses and perhaps even looked like him with the lengthy beard he had grown in his final years. It was the morning of the seventh day of the week and Chance had wheeled him in his wheelchair down to the ecclesiastical service dedicated to the ‘One’.  As he sat there in the temple just near New Terra’s palace Jan felt his heart beat strongly.  It was time – he knew it. Later that day, after the heart attack had done its course, Jan was lying tenderly in bed.  Chance knew his time had come and so did Kalan and Xadina who were right by his side.  Jan looked at Chance and spoke his final words to her.  ‘Chance.  Chance Kibb’star.  I don’t think I ever told you this but when I first met you something changed in me.  I lost an edge.  A hardened edge and slowly started becoming the man I have become.  You changed me Chance and I want you to know this.  Whatever awaits me in my destiny ahead of me in the hands of the One, I will never forget you.  You will be my heart forever, Chance Kibb’star.  I promise you that.’  Chance held his hand, nodded and smiled at him, and silently continued sobbing.  Jan turned to Kalan.‘Kalan Kolby.  And you are a Kolby.  Son, you are the son I always wanted and God made you perfect right from the start.  I have no doubt you will continue in my footsteps as you have indicated and I wish the One’s blessing upon you.  I have only one final word of advice:  beware of rogues the likes of Dak Bluddhook.’  Kalan hugged his father and just grinned at his final comments.  Jan turned to Xadina.  ‘Xadina, child of mine.  All I can say with my final words are this.  I love you.’  Xadina nodded and continued holding Jan’s hand. He died a few hours later, having grown progressively weak.  But his body shook not and he silently departed this life full of years, full of wisdom, and full of success. The UFGSS was in mourning for 1 full year, most dignitaries wearing black, but when the year had passed Kalan was appointed to Jan’s position of overseer and life, for most, returned to its steady humdrum.  20 Chance Kolby passed just two years after her husband and went off to again be with him in the afterlife.  Kalan, in reflection of his mothers life, said things at the eulogy he had also wanted to say about his father but had been to grief stricken to say.  But perhaps this was now the right time to say both things. At the service for Chance Kolbe nee Kibb’star, Kalan spoke up from the pulpit.‘Of all the things my mother and father held dear, apart from their children, it was their sense of purpose and responsibility to the destiny the One had chosen for them.  They tackled this destiny head on, never flinching, never betraying the faith placed in them.  And they overcame many great and difficult barriers to bring this legacy to the universe – the legacy of peace. There has always been so much hostility and calamity in mankind and other sentient life throughout the universe, but there has also always been much good done.  It is a dichotomy, of good and evil, right and wrong, and I feel our task is to learn just that.  The difference between right and wrong. What my parent’s left me was the teaching that, in service to the one, we are here not just for ourselves, but we are part of a larger family, a galactic family, a universal family, all wishing those very same things.  Peace, love and prosperity. My final words in memory of my father and mother are to each of you gathered here today and watching on visual screens is this.  Be brave, be bold, and do not be afraid to be a peacemaker.  The cost of peace is often life, but those who shed blood for the greater good will never be forgotten.  Long will we remember them.  I pray that my father and mother’s legacy be just that.  A legacy of peace and sacrifice to a cause greater than them both – greater than all of us.  Thank you.’ There was a strong round of applause and both the Kolby children stood and were again applauded by the audience. And on that day the Rimwalker, the illustrious Rimwalker, was finally laid to rest with his beloved Chance Kibb’star.  But the story does not end there.  No, in a way it is only the beginning.  For peace was now coming upon the galaxy and the universe.  A fresh wave of the blessing of the One was coming upon universal civilization and true and everlasting freedom and prosperity for all was beckoning.  It was not the end, in truth.  It was just the beginning.  The beginning of a new and better way of life for all.  PART FIVE ‘What happens next’ 1 Jan awoke.  The hunt was on again as he heard the drums beating.  He yawned, stretched himself, and took a sip of water from his flask.  He was lucky to have a flask, very lucky.  When he’d first arrived he had gradually came to his senses in a clearing were a number of objects were sitting in a small pile.  He had barely had time to look at the objects, having picked up the flask, when the tribesmen appeared.  They had held spears and, knowing not what else to do, he ran.  They followed him for a number of kilometres, always staying just behind him, but never quite catching him for some reason unknown to himself.  And then they had ceased and he had found the river in the gorge, drunk from the water, and climbed the mountain. At the top of the mountain he surveyed his new realm, hearing the drums come to an end.  They had seemingly given up chase but had been satisfied he was perhaps gone from their land. That had been two years ago since arriving and now, using the mountain as his homebase, he ate the wild berries and drank the water from the river, filling his flask to take with him to the upper heights of the mountain were the tribesmen never came. But having just awoke the hunt was on again, but this time it was not him.  Was there a new visitor?  After all this time was there a new visitor?  He decided, thinking he should know better, to go and investigate.  He climbed down the mountain and carefully traced his way back towards the sounds of the drums.  And then, suddenly, just coming over the rise, a figure, female, dashing in his direction, the tribesmen just behind.  And when she came closer, veering towards him, his heart leapt.  Thank the One.  It was Chance. He yelled.  ‘Quickly Chance, follow me.’  Chance leapt at him instantly and hugged him, but saw the tribesmen still chasing and quickly followed him.  Soon they neared the mountain and the tribesmen gave up the chase. Jan gave her some water and then Chance fell on her husband kissing him constantly.‘Oh Jan, Oh Jan.  Thank the creator you are with me again.  Thank the creator.’They made love then, the drums ceasing, to which Chance finally posed the question.  ‘So this is it then?  Heaven!  The Afterlife!’‘I guess so,’ responded Jan Kolby, and again hugged his wife.  2 Jan looked at the one object Chance seemed to have also managed to take from the pile of objects.  It was one of those gas oven flame starters.  The ones which just gave off little sparks when you pressed the button.‘Good, we can make a fire at last.  I have been trying but have not had any luck.  But this will probably do the trick.’  Chance nodded, glad she had contributed something.  She looked at his worn down clothes.‘They look pretty tatty, hon.  But they still look good on you anyway.  My, I don’t think I ever saw you this young.’‘I feel 20 and I guess I look it too.  It must be how we all start in the next world because you only look in your teens.’‘Thank you,’ she said and smiled. After getting a fire going for the first time, surrounding the fireplace with rocks, Jan explained what he had gone through for the last two years.‘Mostly just survival.  Going that way,’ he said pointing in the opposite direction to the tribesmen,’ after about 3 kilometres you come to a large rim.  It is about 100 metres across to the land on the other side.’‘And what is at the bottom of the rim?’‘It just goes down, seemingly forever, but there is not rock to climb down it.  It just disappears into space.’Chance puzzled on that.  It sounded strange.‘What about the other directions?’‘Well the rim gradually circles around back towards the tribesmen both ways and I have only been able to ever go so far before they start hunting me again and I have had to retreat.  I have been wondering to myself how I would eventually get out of here for a while now, but have no firm plans yet.  But now that you are here, well hon, hopefully something will change.’Chance smiled.  Yes, now that she was here hopefully something would indeed change.  It was a perplexing situation and not exactly the first thing you expected in the afterlife.  But it was what they were faced with so they would have to live up to it.They enjoyed the fire, although Jan explained it was never to cold, and while there was a night of sorts, there were never any stars.‘It just gets a bit darker for half the day, and then lighter for the other half.  It is strange, really.’ They spent the next few days catching up with Chance telling him all that had happened at home since he had passed.  And they made love, often.  Every few hours in fact, so randy were the couple now.  Besides, there was not much else to do. They were sitting besides the fire, eating a chicken which they had managed to catch and defeather, something Jan had not bothered doing without a fire, and contemplating just what they would do next when the most unexpected visitor arrived.  A most unexpected visitor indeed.  3 Jan looked again at the figure who was approaching, telling himself beyond reason that it couldn’t be, but as the figure, still puffing, at the sounds of the drums and the tribesmen having just given up chase, came into closer view he indeed knew who he at first glance thought it was:  Dak Bluddhook.  Dak came into the small clearing were the fire was, turned to confirm to himself that the tribesmen were indeed not following him, gave a cursory glance to Jan and Chance and chuckled a little and bent down to warm himself at the fire.  Jan and Chance both just stared at him but Jan quickly reached the conclusion that Dak, in the schemes of what will be, was to be their guest from that point, so just let him be.  After a while Dak spoke up.‘This is it then, is it?  What, do we start with some kind of test?’‘I guess,’ replied Chance.  ‘Jan has been here for 2 years and I just arrived and we are not really sure what this place is.  Heaven or something.’Jan spoke up.  ‘I have been thinking about that.  There is an ancient church teaching on a place between Heaven and Earth called Purgatory.  Apparently many souls go there before going to heaven as a place of final purification.’‘Great!’ exclaimed Dak.  ‘So we are here to be purified.’‘I guess,’ responded Jan.And then, for the first time, Jan’s assigned guardian angel who had been watching Jan’s progress for the last two years came out of the shadow’s and made himself known.‘It is exactly as you have both surmised.’Jan and Chance stared at the figure, but Jan was not really that surprised.  He was used to unexpected guests at the moment.‘And who the hell are you?’ asked Dak Bluddhook to the new stranger.‘My name is Ramiel.  I am Jan’s guardian angel.  All sentient life-forms have a guardian angel.’‘Yes, they are also talked about in Arcturian religious culture,’ commented Chance.‘As they are in most,’ responded Ramiel.The angel came into the circle, Jan noting the traditional wings were actually attached, and sat down in front of the fire, warming his hands.  He turned to Jan and spoke.‘Do you know why you are here, then, Jan?’Jan looked bewildered.  ‘Well, I guess if this place is purgatory I am here to be made holy or something or other.’‘Something like that,’ said Ramiel, and smiled at him.  ‘Let me explain things to all three of you, now that all three are here.’  The angel got to his feet, stretched himself and then returned to sitting in front of the fire.‘Life – physical life in the universe you all came from – is not the first taste of life you have experienced.  All creatures begin their existence in the heart or loins of the creator, the One.  It is from his creative design we all come forth.  But when we are born into the physical universe we soon forget our origin, apart from dreams we have during life reminding us, subtley, were we have come from.  After life comes the heavenly realms were you are destined, each of you, to live forever.  This place, purgatory, is different in scope and nature for every group which is tested.  It is a spiritual place between heaven and the physical universe were souls are, as you have surmised, made pure for their rebirth into the heavenly domain.  And that, I think, sums it up.’‘What are the lessons we have to learn?’ asked Chance, desiring to know her religious obligations before the One.The angel smiled.  ‘You will know.  In fact, you already do.  It is written on  your heart.  You just need a little coaxing in this place to remember that childhood innocence and walk in it once more.’  Chance nodded.  That much seemed to make sense.‘Well,’ began the angel, getting to his feet.  ‘I will be going now.  But soon, very soon, one of you will make a key decision.  And I will return for that decision.  Farewell.’  He then proceeded to stride away from the fire into the darkness and disappeared.  Watching him go things started to slot into place in the mind of Jan Kolby.  The purpose – the purpose of life – seemed to be making sense now.  As if he was grasping a bigger picture – a picture in which all the trials he had been through so far had a meaning and a purpose.  But soon for one of them a test was coming and somehow, some way, he just knew that the test was for himself.  4 Jan looked at the thin nylon rope, the one meagre possession which Dak had taken from the pile before the hunt had begun.  It was thin, but was probably strong and looked long.  Perhaps 150 metres or so.‘Why the rope?’ asked Chance to Dak.‘What do you mean why the rope?  I was just looking at this pile of objects having woken up and picked up this rope and put it around my shoulder when suddenly the drums began and the tribesmen appeared.  I didn’t wait around to ask any questions.  Why do you ask?’Chance picked up the rope and looked at Jan who shrugged.  ‘Each of us picked up one object before the hunt began.  Jan picked up a flask and I picked up a firestarter.  I guess each of these objects may have a purpose in our time here.’‘That might be true,’ said Jan, taking the rope from chance and unwinding it.  He placed it at an end with a rock on it and unwound it, walking into the distance.  Indeed, it was about 150 metres in length, but thin.  It might just take the weight of a human if it had to.‘What do we do with the rope?’ asked Chance to Jan as he returned.‘I don’t know yet.  But something.  I am sure it will come in useful.’‘Whatever,’ said Dak, picking at the chicken for his breakfast.  ‘Hey, what is there to ear around here anyway?’‘Well, now that we have fire,’ there are plenty of chickens roaming around, and even the odd sheep.  If we sharpen some sticks we can kill the ship and remove its wool, gut it and eat it.’‘Sounds good enough to me,’ responded Dak, who began eating some of Jan and Chance’s pile of wildberries. Having made his way through about 20 wildberries Dak turned to Jan.  ‘So what’s the plan, genius?’Chance thought on the Angel’s words on the lessons they needed to learn and spoke up.  ‘We co-operate, Dak Bluddhook.  We work together as a team, putting the interests of the team ahead of our own.’‘Something you will have to learn how to do, perhaps,’ smirked Jan.‘Hey, I learned plenty of cooperation in the League of Piracy.  You want co-operation I am your man,’ responded Dak.‘I am sure you are,’ said Chance, a little grin on her face.  She turned to Jan who had just about finished wrapping up the rope again.  ‘Any ideas, hon?’‘Yes, one.  I don’t really know if it is a good idea or not, but it is an idea.’‘And,’ said Dak, impatiently.‘We go to the rim and lower one of us down to have a look.  If there is anything down there, this is the way we will find out.’‘Sounds good enough to me,’ said Chance.Dak just shrugged.  At least it was a plan.  5 As they walked the few kilometres to the rim, Jan asked Dak how he had died.‘Funny that, I don’t really remember for sure.  The last few days are all a bit of a haze.  But I do remember being on a League ship just heading out of Arcturia for somewere.  And then the memory fades away until I woke up here.  And that is all I remember.’Jan recalled his last moments, saying he remembered right up until the time of his death.  And then a fuzzy haze for a while and then waking up in the clearing with the pile of objects.  Chance had a similar story. Dak, who had been silently mulling over the Angel’s words, had been contemplating the state of his own soul.  He was not really surprised he didn’t make it to heaven straight away, often thinking his soul bound for darkness because of the life choices he had made.  But one thing did strike him.  Deep down in his heart he had often told himself he was still a good guy, just given over to roguish behaviour.  And he had his charms and other good points.  Perhaps that had been enough with the One to earn his way to purgatory.  It certainly seemed that way.  And, because of that, and thinking over the apparent lessons he needed to learn to earn his way into heaven, he began asking Chance some basic questions about Arcturian religion, questions he had never really bothered with before.  Chance was happy enough to relate her knowledge and over that hour as they walked the distance to the rim Jan listened intently to his wife explain some of the mysteries of life, as she saw them, to a new student eager to learn.  It was certainly interesting conversation. When the got to the rim the three of them stared over at the land on the other side.  Chance looked at the rope, knew it was long enough to go across, but could not think of any real way of getting it tied down on the other side.  And Jan seemed to know Chances thoughts and replied, ‘I have no idea either, Chance.  I don’t see anyway we could secure it.  Besides, even if we tied it to a rock, I doubt that we could secure it at the other side.  That was when Dak had a suggestion.‘Why not use one of these long trees as a sling and tie the end of the rope to a rock and try slinging it across.  If we choose the right rock and it land well we can get Chance to go across on it.’Jan looked at Dak and considered his idea for a moment, shrugged, and started looking around for a suitable rock.  They found what they felt was the right size and began work on the sling.  2 hours later they had stripped a tree and were ready to go.  But to no avail.  It seemed the furthest they could ever get the rock to go was about 40 metres or so and it dived down into the rim.  Eventually Jan signalled that they were wearing out the rock and to give up, much to the other two’s disappointment.‘What next?’ asked Dak.‘What we originally came here for, I guess.  To look down under the rim.’  That said he tied the rope to a tree near the rim and looked at Chance.‘You’re the lightest sweetheart.  I mean, I will go if you are afraid, but we have a better chance with you.’She nodded.  She understood her obligation. As she climbed down and disappeared out of sight beyond the edge of the rim Jan looked across to the other side.  He wondered to himself just what was over there when the rope started swinging.  He yelled to Chance but she didn’t respond.  But about a minute later she yelled out to pull her back up.  When she was back in front of them she spoke up.‘There is a ledge, about 300 metres this way along the rim,’ she said pointing in what they had agreed to call north.  ‘But I think the only way we will reach it is by jumping off at the end of the rope.  I don’t think it will reach otherwise.’‘How do you know?’ asked Jan.‘Because there is an outcropping of sedimentary rock running all along the underedge of the rim.  I tried swinging to test the length, but I think I know already.  The rope won’t be long enough.  We will have to jump if we want to make the ledge.’‘That might mean no turning back,’ said Jan.‘Perhaps,’ replied his wife.‘Let’s go see anyway.’They walked along the rim, coming to the place were Chance said the ledge was, and tied the rope to an outjutting rock.  Chance again climbed down and the rope swung for a little while before she yelled for them to pull them up.  When she had gotten back to them she confirmed that they would have to jump and leave the rock if they wanted to try the ledge.  There was simply no other way.‘Well, we will keep it as a backup plan for now then,’ said Jan.  ‘We will think about other ideas first.’Chance and Dak both agreed.  Neither yet was prepared to try the ledge.  It was there last solution.  6 When they had returned to their camp, Dak collapsed in front of the fire which was still burning.  He looked at the pile of wildberries and, thinking over the lessons Chance had been teaching him, went off to gather some more to do his share of the work.  Jan watched him for a while and smiled to himself.  Dak was cooperating – a good sign to see.Jan looked at Chance and spoke up.  ‘It was good, you know.  You teaching him all those lessons on your religion.  It was good for him.’‘I guess that is what we are here to learn, Jan.  To be good.  To be better than what we were.  Especially now that we don’t have any reason to doubt anymore that there is some great plan at work.’‘No,’ agreed Jan.  There was definitely no longer any reason to doubt. Dak returned after about half an hour and had filled his shirt with wildberries.  He only had his jacket on and poured out the wildberries in the small pile which Jan and Chance had built and sat back down in front of the fire, putting his shirt back on.  After a while he spoke up.‘Do you think there are any fish in that river?  Perhaps we could spear some.’‘I was thinking about that myself,’ responded Jan.  Its getting late in the day now, but perhaps we could make some spears and try that out tomorrow.’Chance agreed, it seemed like a good idea. On the morrow they indeed made spears and while it took some time getting their aim right they managed to catch a dozen fish.  Chance spent the morning cooking them, even sprinkling some wild salt on them which she had collected from a nearby salt flat which Jan had talked about.  All that afternoon they ate fish and wildberries, drank water and ate chicken and talked about old times.  Jan and Dak both shared their adventures in the League of Piracy and Chance discovered more and more that her husband had indeed been quite the rogue at one time himself.  But Jan had relented of that lifestyle and you could tell so from his conversation.  And, strangely enough, while Dak was a lot bawdier in the things he reflected upon Chance saw it in him too.  Reflecting as if they were the old days, the old ways.  As if a new man, a better man, was starting to emerge.  And she prayed a prayer of thanks to the One on behalf of the new man Dak Bluddhook was becoming.  7 ‘So they are a breed of human?’‘I suppose we have breeds,’ responded Jan.  ‘It is one way of looking at the racial divisions.  But as far as I can tell they are human and look like pacific islanders.’‘Have you ever tried talking to them?’ Chance asked.‘I once snuck up on where they camp and said ‘Hello’.  But all they did was grab their spears and chase me off again.  I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to bypass them and get to the other side but I always end up running across 3 or 4 of the tribesmen out hunting or collecting berries or something.  It’s as if they have been deliberately placed there as an obstacle to myself.’‘Perhaps that is there purpose,’ responded Dak, thinking it over.  ‘I mean if this is a place of trial, they are in your way for a reason.  Perhaps they represent some kind of thing from your past which you need to deal with.’Jan looked at Dak, considered that point, but responded.  ‘I have only ever met a few islanders and never had any problems with them.  If it is something from my past I have to deal with I can’t think of it.  It could be from your past, Dak.  The angel did imply the situation was waiting for the 3 of us to arrive to resolve itself.’‘What have I got to do with islanders,’ queried Dak, puzzled on such a thought.‘No idea.  Just thinking, that is all.’‘Well, are we going to then?’ queried Chance to the unasked question.Jan looked at her.  ‘Approach them again, is that what you are saying?  Try and make peace with them?’‘It is as good as an idea as any and we are out of them.  Unless you plan on staying with me here for eternity.’Jan considered that and acknowledged Chance’s point.  It was time to speak with the tribesmen. ‘Ok, well, it is late today.  Lets go tomorrow, in the morning.  When we are all fresh.  It might be the best time to tackle them.’Chance and Dak agreed.  It was as good an idea as any.‘Remember,’ said Chance,’ the angel said we were here to learn our lessons.  So try a peaceful solution.  It is what you are good at.’Jan smiled, consoled by his wife’s kind words. He slept fitfully that night, worried about the morrow’s encounter.  Whatever it brought it may finally resolve the situation he found himself in.  Time would only tell.  8 The following morning Jan looked at Dak and Chance nervously.  ‘Are we really ready for this?  I don’t think I could stand being hunted yet again.  It is starting to get on my nerves.’‘How many of them are there?’ Dak asked.‘I am not sure.  But over 20.’‘So fighting them is out of the question.’‘Unless you want to fight 20 warriors armed with spears,’ responded Jan sarcastically.‘We want to try a peaceful solution anyway,’ interjected Chance.  ‘It is what you are good at Jan.’Jan nodded.  He knew that much was true. They began the trek in what they had called an easterly direction towards the camp of the tribesmen.  As they neared carefully they could hear them speaking to each other around a fireplace when Dak spoke.  ‘Gandolo.  They speak Gandolo.’Jan looked at Dak puzzled.  ‘What the heck is Gandolo?’‘It is an old Arcturian dialect.  From primitive tribal days.’‘And how the hell would you know that,’ asked Jan surprised.‘Well, the reason I got into the League of Piracy was that of all things to study at university I chose ancient languages.  And apart from work as a professor or teacher there is not much to do with ancient Arcturian languages.  As you can see, I chose piracy thereafter as my profession.’‘Well your studies might finally come in useful.  Say hello to them.  Try to communicate.’Dak nodded. As they approached the tribesmen, as soon as they were spotted the tribesmen again went for their spears when Dak hailed them, saying hello in their language.  An elder of the tribespeople came forward and began speaking to Dak.  There was a lengthy dialogue upon which Dak finally went silent.  It seemed as if he had come to an impasse with them, but they stopped threatening them. Dak signalled for the other two to follow them and he lead them away from the tribesmen who watched them for a while and then returned to their fireplace.  Dak spoke to Jan, saying, ‘Well, I understand the situation now.  They are indeed ancient tribespeople, having lived here for as long as they can remember.  To the east, were we went to go, are their sacred burial lands, and they refuse to let us go in that direction.  If we were to try to the leader informs us that we would have to be put to death.  They are that passionate about it.’‘So they have people live and die here?’ queried Jan.‘It seems that way.  Did you notice the younger people in the small huts?  I guess they all eventually get old and die and go off to the next world.’‘Perhaps that is their way of resolving purgatory,’ said Chance.‘Possibly,’ said Jan, who thought that may indeed be true. As they trudged back to their camp, Jan gave thought as to what they would do next.  Obviously, with Dak being able to speak with them, they had the beginnings of an avenue of communication.  If they could gently, but purposefully persuade the tribespeople to let them travel east they could, hopefully, see what more this world had to offer them.  For now that was the plan of action.  9 It didn’t happen immediately, such being the distrust, but slowly the three of them became a part of the Gandolo tribe.  The tribespeople explained that they did not now how they had gotten here, or what they were supposed to do here and, from Dak’s understanding, they simply followed their instincts and set up camp.  That had been long ago according to the memory of the elder tribesman.  And supposedly the language they spoke was the language they had always spoken.  For the time being it remained a mystery, one which Jan was not sure if they would ever solve. As they integrated into the tribe Dak began becoming friendly with one of the younger girls in her mid teens.  She had not been promised to a man, but the elders eyed the relationship with suspicion.  Her name was Guntara and Dak found himself quite taken with her, although he tried to hide this when it was in fact obvious to all and would deny it if explicitly asked. For the first year with the tribe Jan carefully, trying not to be noticed, walked around in the eastern sections of the camp, going a little further each day.  But he was always noticed and after a while one of the tribesman showed up in a subtle way of shooing him back to the group.  Try as he might it was simply forbidden to enter the eastern lands unless a death had occurred marking time for a burial ceremony.  And funnily enough, that death did in fact occur, with the eldest elder passing on one night in his sleep. They were cautiously invited to the burial and Jan was anxious to see just what was over the ridge they had never been over. The day came and the tribespeople gathered the body in sheepskin and brought digging instruments and started the climb up the ridge.  When the three of them got to the top of the ridge they looked out before them.  Jan noted that the rims to the north and the south seemed to go on forever, but progressively more and more land was opening up.  As far as he could tell the land was basically the same as what they were currently used to, with the river winding its way throughout it as far as they could see.‘It could go on forever like that,’ said Dak.  ‘Perhaps they have already ventured out and found nothing.  Perhaps that is why they stay here, were they awoke I guess.’Jan considered that.  It seemed to make sense.‘The question is, Dak.  Do we take the risk and try to escape and explore those lands.  Or do we live out whatever remains of our purgatorial existence here?’Dak nodded.  That indeed was the question.  10 Gradually Guntara and Dak grew closer, while Jan and Chance’s relationship steadily grew stronger.  Each day Jan was trying a little harder now.  It was as if life suddenly had a greater purpose in reality than he’d had to deal with just on faith.  He remembered some of the teachings from the Bible he had read in his life on New Terra, but mostly consoled himself with Arcturian Monotheistic religion which he had adopted.  Both he and chance, while having religion and being devoted to it, were not spiritual zealots, not given over to become clerics or anything like that.  But they appreciated now that religion always had had its purpose and concentrated on living lives pleasing to the One. Dak was changing as well.  The old Dak, now, seemed something of the past.  His faith had come alive and he too tried to live a life pleasing to the One.  Every seventh day was a devotional day in Arcturian religion and on those days they would hold a short service saying a few prayers and Chance giving a short sermon on how they could improve their lives.  Strangely, some of the tribesmen gradually took an interest in Chance’s religion, and Chance occasionally spoke her sermons in Gandolo, which she had learned a great deal of by now, to try and include the tribespeople.  The Gandoloans had not great sense of religion or belief in the One as it were, but spoke of the mystery life in a sort of spiritual way as well.  Almost like life was a circle in which each individual played a role connected to everyone else.  And that everything had a purpose.  But they were somewhat taken with Arcturian faith, even young Umbarra who had begun taking an interest in Guntara and trying to separate her from Dak as much as possible. It was a strange group which celebrated services each seventh day.  One human, two Arcturian and a gathering of tribesman that may have been either or something completely different.  But the gatherings gave peace to the hearts of those who attended and gave the answers that each in their own way were searching for. As the second year passed and the third year with the tribespeople got up and running, Jan had settled somewhat.  Chance was still not pregnant, even though they had been trying for ages.  They both surmised that it was perhaps something to do with purgatory and perhaps they couldn’t have children here.  Gradually the clothes they had arrived with had worn away and they now wore sheepskin.  Chance made moccasins, something which the tribespeople instantly took to, and they looked like any other ancient tribal people from a distance. In the end Jan concluded that whatever lessons he was meant to be learning here in Purgatory he was likely learning and that if he was to spend another life with Chance in such a place, well, as long as he had his wife it seemed bearable.  But perhaps that was why he was here anyway.  As the angel had said he was to learn to become holy.  And devoted to that, in the world to come he would perhaps receive the promised reward his religious faith spoke of.  11 Dak looked at Umbarra.  He was now coming of age and seemingly ready for mating.  And he had his eye on Guntara.  Dak knew, in truth, there was little he could do.  Guntara and himself had not mated, that seeming to be forbidden by the tribe until a marriage ceremony, but now that Umbarra wanted Guntara Dak was the one left out in the cold.  And that was hurting his heart which had been drawing close to Guntara since his time with the tribe. The two of them often went out together, gathering wild berries, drinking from the river and sharing their meals together.  She even let him kiss her occasionally, something he delighted in.  But nothing more than that was deemed appropriate or allowable by Guntara, apparently according to the elder’s wishes. Dak himself had never been a married man.  Of course, he had visited Arcturian prostitutes as a way of life familiar to most League of Piracy members.  But actually settling down and raising children had seemed something at odds with the lifestyle Dak Bluddhook had chosen for himself and the kind of person that lifestyle had led him to become.  But that was then.  That was before.  Now he had, he felt, changed.  The old carnal Dak was gone and a new man had begun emerging.  One which took seriously faith in the One and one which cared for others.  And more than anything else, one which now desired an intimate relationship with a female and hopefully the raising of family.  And in that way in which he had developed Guntara seemed like the perfect person at the perfect time.  It was just that Umbarra now seemed to stand in the way. In conversation with Jan, Dak shared his dilemma, but Jan reminded him that they were guests of the tribe in reality and could not really have things their own way.  If the tribe deemed that Umbarra and Guntara were to be married – well such was life, and there was little if anything at all that Dak Bluddhook could do about it. In such a situation Dak found himself doing something quite odd, but which he had slowly been getting used to.  He found himself praying to the One to do something about his dilemma.  Chance shared with him that the One usually answered prayers if they were part of his will and plan, so Dak was bemused.  He really did not think he was ready to understand the fullness of the One’s plans for even his own life so that he just left it alone thereafter.  In the end he concluded that whatever would be would be and that if he and Guntara were to be together, well that would happen inevitably anyway.  But still he longed for her and was tormented by Umbarra’s presence.  12 In some ways Jan had resolved himself to live out his days in this place.  He was happy enough, fed when he needed to be, and got good sex from Chance.  But there lingered a voice inside him which challenged him to meet head on the lesson he was supposed to learn.  And so he decided to himself that he would, after all, try and escape to the east.  He discussed it one night with Dak and Chance who had mixed views on the idea.  Dak’s major complaint was that he felt he might want to stay, now, and try his luck with Guntara.  Chance, while willing, did reflect that the time together between them had been good for them and that their relationship was developing.  But in the end, with some persuasion, both agreed to try and escape.  Jan felt they had earned the tribespeople’s trust to a degree now and decided upon leaving in the middle of the night, quietly, when hopefully nobody would see them go. It was the following afternoon, and he had gathered their possessions into a pile, ready to leave that night.  There was never really any wind in their home, but it occasionally seemed to get a little colder, and that night it seemed especially cold.  But Jan kept telling himself it was probably just his imagination. In the middle of the night, as best they could surmise, they ever so carefully crawled away from the group and, when out of sight, started their trek eastwards.  They climbed the ridge and looked out over the land in front of them, still discernible somewhat in the dimmer light.  As they had noted before the rims continued on in both directions, gradually getting wider apart.  Jan suggested that they either travel north or south along the edge of the rim to avoid potentially going in circles.  Dak agreed and as the river appeared to snake its way ahead of them more to the northerly side they agreed to travel north along the edge of the rim. They spent two days simply hiking, only resting briefly, before they decided the tribesmen were not following them and could rest.  Dak suggested that maybe one of them stay watch, but Jan felt he was over-reacting.  They would have given up the chase by now – Jan was sure of it. As they slept that night Jan dreamed, and in his dream the angel Ramiel appeared briefly and whispered to him, ‘Your test is near at hand.  I will be watching.’  He woke soon after the words of the angel fresh in his mind.  They were to encounter to something, soon or some other kind of test was just about ready.  And Jan felt, now, their time in purgatory was just about fulfilled.  13 All three of them were bitterly disappointed the following morning when each of them was poked with a spear and awoke to find a dozen of the tribesmen threatening them with spears.  They had gotten so far but now their merry little adventure was over with and Jan was livid.  As they began the trudge back to the camp Dak mentioned to Jan that he had overheard some of the elders speaking that they would now have to resolve the situation with the intruders, permanently.  Jan did not really know what permanently meant, but didn’t at all like the sounds of it. It was a long and frustrating march, but when they finally arrived back at the camp one of the elders who had not come to find them approached Jan and spoke.‘You will not escape again.  See, it is useless.  We will come and find you no matter how far you run.  And perhaps next time you will not be so fortunate.’  Saying those last word he ran his finger across his neck in a cutting motion.  Jan definitely got the point. They were back at camp for just three days when Jan finally determined that they would indeed run again, but this time they would not be caught.  They were only caught the last time because they had stopped running and rested.  It was the one flaw in the plan.  Both Dak and Chance complained that the villagers would be watching them even more closely this time but Jan didn’t care.  He’d had enough and wanted to resolve the situation. That night they waited later on in the night and then crept away.  But after only a few miles the tribesmen had again caught them and brought them back to the camp.  This time they were not so friendly and handled them quite roughly.  Back in the centre of the camp Jan knew they might this time have to pay.  He had perhaps acted recklessly and foolishly and endangered lives.  If this was the test the angel had said he was to go through, then he had bitterly failed. Dak overheard the tribesmen talking.  There was a heated argument and then silence as one of the elders finally nodded.  And then they placed a tribesman on guard to watch the three of them.  Things were not looking good.   14 It was the following day that Jan decided on their final option.  The option they had all agreed was their last chance.  ‘We go for the ledge and see what is down under the rim.  They will never follow us down there.’  And despite Dak’s affections for Guntara, both he and Chance agreed.  It was down to the final decision. When the guardsmen later that night had dropped his eyes and started dozing, they snuck off and begun running back westwards to their original camp.  But no sooner had they begun then the drums began.  Perhaps this time they would be hunted until they could be hunted no more.  Perhaps this time would come the killing blow. As they ran Jan thought over the words of the angel.  A test would come.  Was this, now, the time of the final test? They came closer to the edge of the rim and Jan looked back to see a tribesmen had just spotted him who then ran off to tell the others.  They quickly climbed down the rope, Chance going first, swinging, and leaping to the ledge.  Jan went second and then, finally, Dak.  But Dak missed the ledge and slid down the rock beneath the ledge till he was clinging to the side of the rim, barely holding on. ‘Come on Chance.  We have to see were this cave goes.  We can’t help Dak, there is no time.’ Said Jan, anxious to leave.  He had seen were Dak landed and realized that if the tribesmen came down the rope and started throwing spears they could soon be injured or dead.  Chance was reluctant to leave, though, but Jan persuaded her that they just couldn’t risk it, and so she followed him but bemoaned Dak. However, as they started their way into the cave, the walls glowing some sort of light, Jan came to himself.  He couldn’t leave Dak.  They were friends now.  And even though it might cost him a spear in the side, he would go back and rescue his friend.  He told Chance to wait for him, not wishing to endanger her life, and started back for Dak.  He came to the ledge, peered down, and spied Dak barely holding on.  He looked up at the rope and saw it swinging.  One of the tribesmen were now coming down it.  He would have to be quick.  He climbed down, ever so carefully, keeping his footing, until he was able to reach down.  Dak looked up at him, looked into his eyes, and reached out his hand.  First fingers touched and then with one last thrust Jan grabbed Dak’s hand and began pulling him back up to the ledge.  No sooner had they gotten onto the ledge then one spear, followed by another was hurtled at them, one catching the corner of Jan’s sheepskin.  ‘Let’s get out of here,’ he yelled to Dak, as they made there way into the tunnel.  As they traveled into the tunnel a voice in the back of Jan’s mind said ‘Well done.  You have passed.’  They found Chance quickly and then continued along the tunnel.  The walls glowed and seemed to increase in brightness the further they travelled along. They had walked for quite a while, about 2 kilometres as far as Jan could tell, when they entered a large cavern.  It seemed without any other exits, but against the far wall there appeared to be something glowing and shimmering.  They came closer to inspect it.  Dak reached out to touch it and brought back his hand.‘It’s like water,’ he said to the other two.’‘What is it?’ queried Chance.  Jan quickly came to the answer.‘It is a portal.  Some sort of ancient portal or gate, for travelling between worlds.  I saw them in old science fiction shows.’‘But were does it lead?’ asked Chance.Jan turned and looked back up the tunnel.  He then turned and looked around the cavern.  He finally spoke.‘I don’t know, Chance.  I don’t know.  But I don’t think we really, in the end, have much of a choice, do we.’Chance looked at Jan, then looked at Dak who looked at Jan.  Dak spoke.‘No we don’t, do we.’ Dak looked at the portal and then said, ‘Well here goes,’ and stepped in.  The two of them waited about a minute when Chance finally said, ‘I don’t think he is coming back to us.’  Jan nodded.  Chance looked at her husband, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.  ‘See you on the other side.’  And she ventured into the portal.  Jan watched her go and steadied himself.  Perhaps this was it.  Perhaps this had been the final adventure of the illustrious Rimwalker, chased down a rocky Rim of all the ironic things to end it all.  He looked at the portal, took a deep breath, and stepped in.  15 Jan looked down at the young man.  It was himself, about 15 years of age, in his parent’s back yard.  He was hovering in space, suspended almost, and then Ramiel appeared.‘By the way, well done in rescuing Dak.  It was a good choice.  A very good choice.’‘Where are we?’ asked Jan.‘We are at the judgement.  I hope you are ready.  Now look at this youth and listen to what he says.’Jan watched on, trying to remember the things he may have said at this time, but let himself speak in the end. Young Jan was holding a saber, pointing it at trees, and blasting them.  His father, returning from work, came into the yard and smiled.  Such was his son’s fascination with guns.  ‘But remember, Jan,’ his father yelled.  ‘Guns can kill people.  And your not a murderer.’Jan nodded and shouted back, convicted.  ‘Sorry dad.  I guess guns can kill people can’t they.  And life is precious, isn’t it?  As you and mum always say.’‘That it is, son,’ said his father, and went inside the house.  Young Jan looked at the gun in his hands for a few moments and then threw it away.  ‘I am not a murderer,’ he said to himself, and went inside. The angel besides Jan smiled.  ‘That was a good choice, Jan.  You never did murder, in the end.  You never did.  And that brought you life with God.  But let us move on.’ The next scene they came to was on Arcturia, before he had met Chance, in the arms of a harlot.  Jan looked down at himself in the harlots arms and grimaced.  For some reason he was now embarrassed about his former life, in a way he had never been before.  The angel spoke, ‘But listen to what you say, Jan.’ ‘You know, I love you gals.  I lost my virginity to one of you sort.’  The prostitute nodded.  Then Jan continued,  ‘But, you know.  I guess.  Look, I guess in truth I regret that some way.  It would have been nice to have done it the proper way and all, but sometimes we make mistakes which just can’t be undone.’  The prostitute nodded again. The angel spoke.  ‘You were convicted, weren’t you.  On your sense of sexual morality.’Jan nodded.  ‘After I met Chance that part disappeared from my life.  I guess in later years I viewed it as the recklessness of youth, but I am glad I left that lifestyle in the end and chose marriage over debauchery.’  The angel smiled and spoke, ‘A wise choice.  Now we go to the final scene.’ They came to old Jan Kolby, on his deathbed just a few hours before he died.  He had just spoken his final words to his family and was drifting off to sleep.  But his mind was alert and Jan could here his prayer to God.‘God.  I don’t know who are what you are exactly.  I know you are the creator of life and death and the judge of life and death.  And I fear you now more than I have ever done, cause I might be meeting you shortly.  Whatever else you might have to say about my life, lord, can I say this on my behalf.  I may have been a rogue at times, a thief and a smuggler.  But there was something in my heart.  Something which carried me on and told me that better days were one day coming and that I would eventually grow up and become a man.  Hopefully, lord, since that reckless youth I have become that man.  A man you might hopefully be proud of.  So I want to say this, God.  Forgive me.  Forgive the sins of my youth, because I was young, dumb and naïve.  And accept me now to life.  Please grant me that gift, I ask you God.  Amen.’  And then Jan went silent.  The angel turned to Jan and said, ‘That was a good prayer, you know.  Really, a very good prayer.  You showed yourself a man in more ways then one, and God was really impressed.’Jan looked at him.  ‘Is this time for the judgement.’‘You have been judged already, Jan Kolby.’Jan looked bewildered and looked around to see if he could see some great throne, some divine prince of glory, ready to pronounce judgement.  But it was only him and the angel.  He finally turned to Ramiel and said, ‘By who.’‘By yourself, of course.  Who else.’  And Ramiel winked at him, and flew off, yelling, ‘See you soon on the other side.  It will be good meeting you in a more substantial form.’  And with that the angel disappeared into white clouds.  Jan just floated there, and returned his gaze to his death bed.  His family was all around him, hugging him, and praying for him.  His heart moved within him and he smiled.  This was the judgement, was it?  Ones own honest opinion?  But no, the purpose of life couldn’t be in judging ones self.  Surely there was more to it than that.  As he stared at the scene it gradually disappeared and he was left alone, floating in white space.  As he stared things started happening.  Rainbows appeared and shone brightly above his head, flowing around in musical dance.  And then harps started playing and angelic voices started singing.  And then he was thrust upwards, very quickly thrust upwards, away from this angelic glory, up to the surface of a planet.  But he had not yet arrived at his destination, somehow he knew that.  And looking in front of him images started appearing, images of his life past, almost in a dream like way.  He watched the images come and go for a number of moments, smiling here and there at fond past memories.  There was his father pushing him on his first tricycle.  Another scene with his mother making his 3rd birthday cake.  And then another scene with his first kiss, a girl from high school.  Heck, he had nearly forgotten all about Jenny Taylor.  And then the scene changed again and this time, instead of seeing the past, he somehow knew he was gazing into the future.  And it was a future which seemed as if it had already been written somehow.  As if it was a destiny he was treading down the pathways of. Chance came into view, and she had a child in her arms.  And then he saw himself standing next to Chance, looking at the young baby.  And somehow he sensed that this would be soon.  Sooner than expected, and his heart leapt because of it.  Another scene began.  He was sitting in a large audience, watching a lecture.  He could somehow discern that it was a spiritual lecture in a church university, on some or another subject of spirituality.  And then the lecture ended and people started talking.  But the funny thing was that everyone knew each other and were extremely loving and friendly with each other.  They showed kindness, affection and true love.  It was as if they were learning the secrets of life and the universe now, and that all things were good for them in life.  That it all had meaning.  That it all had purpose.  And then the scene changed again and he saw himself with Chance in a large general store.  It seemed to be on a planet like earth in some ways, and both of them were the store owners.  And then a voice from heaven spoke to him.  ‘Glory doesn’t come cheap Jan Kolby.  Expect to work a while to earn your keep.  But, I am sure, you will love every minute of it.  Trust me on that.’  And then the voice left off speaking.  The next scene began, but this he could somehow tell was millions of years later.  There he was in the same store again, but a chain had begun.  And he could tell there were hundreds of other similar stores they owned.  And he had more family now.  Dozens around him, all calling him and Chance Father and mother.  Jan smiled to himself.  Of all the things the future could hold, something as basic as a simple life working to the top seemed to make sense in some way.  As if, to reach long term goals you had to steadily work to achieve them.  The scene, though, changed yet again.  And this time Jan was in a university lecture hall again, but this time he was teaching.  And then the scene changed to the teachers lounge were he could hear some of the teachers saying, ‘That young Kolby is coming along.  He really is beginning to learn his lessons.’  Jan just smiled to himself at that, but the scene changed yet again.  Suddenly he was on top of a mountain, a very difficult and challenging mountain, and Dak Bluddhook was standing next to him.  He patted Dak on the back as if to say well done.  As if they had conquered some challenge or another.  But ever so quickly the scene changed yet again, and Jan was again in the store, over by the corner, in a rocking chair, reading to one of his new-borns.  Reading from his memoirs.  And he could here himself say to the child, ‘a long life, yes indeed.  But we are children of eternity after all.  Never forget that.  Never forget that truth, blessed one,’ and he kissed his child.  Jan’s heart warmed, but the scene changed yet again.  Suddenly he and Dak were standing together, but opposing them was a figure of darkness.  A big dark figure, something which was hell bent on challenging them and declaring them nothing against his power and might. But he and Dak stood firm and the testing came and went.  That was a puzzling scene to Jan and he had no real idea what that was all about.  In the next scene he was walking along a path and Ramiel was beside him.  And they were muttering something about the war of the sons of darkness with the sons of light.  And the scene ended.  And the, one last scene in which he was sitting with Chance, in a new home, a new lovely home, sitting on the bed.  And he could here himself saying to Chance, ‘These will be difficult times ahead of us, Chance Kibb’star.  But we are children of the One.  We always have been, and always will be.  We will overcome this challenge, in time.  And we will be better, stronger people for it.  And he hugged her, and the scene ended. And then, yet again, he was floating in white space.  He was thinking quickly on all that he had seen and was fascinated with just what the future could indeed hold for him when a voice, the voice of eternity, finally spoke. ‘HELLO DEAR SON.  IT IS GOOD TO FINALLY MEET YOU.’  Jan was shocked at the immensity of the voice, as if it carried with it the weight of all eternity.  But he responded to the One as best he could.  ‘Hello father.’‘YOU HAVE SEEN JUST A GLIMPSE OF YOUR ETERNAL DESINY, JAN KOLBY.  JUST A GLIMPSE.  BUT KNOW THIS.  FOREVER I WILL BE WITH YOU, WATCHING YOU, TEACHING YOU, GUARDING YOU, JUDGING YOU.  YOU ARE MY CHILD AND YOU ARE DEAR TO ME, AS ALL MY CHILDREN ARE.  I WILL HAVE MANY WORDS WITH YOU OVER YOUR LIFE AHEAD OF YOU, BUT I WILL START WITH THIS.  ENJOY YOUR FIRST YEARS, BEFORE THE CHALLENGES.  ENJOY THEM AND REST IN THE BLESSINGS I WILL PROVIDE FOR YOU.  FOR YOU WILL NEED THE STRENGH WHICH COMES FROM THEM.  INDEED, YOU WILL NEED THAT STRENGH.  AND REMEMBER THIS.  I LOVE YOU, JAN KOLBY.  YOU ARE DEAR TO MY HEART.’  And then the One left off speaking Hearing the voice of God Jan knew he would never forget it.  The aura, the power, the majesty.  But above all, the sheer loving concern.  As if he, Jan Kolby, was a vessel of high esteem in God’s eyes, and that he loved him dearly. As he floated there, waiting whatever would come next, his body leapt upwards yet again.  He spiralled up, up into the neverending eternity above him, and as he flew or was thrust up he could see a vision.  A vision of life opening up before him.  It was heaven.  He was coming to heaven.  And quickly, almost in a snapshot, he saw they mystery of the ages, and took in all its wonder, its scope, its vibrancy, its beauty.  And he saw, almost enmeshed throughout all the eternal heaven before him, a glowing light, a radiance which seemed to speak of the glory of God.  And then silence. Darkness came in.  He was at rest.  He waited there, dwelling in the final place before his rebirth he somehow knew.  He waited there, and as time passed he gradually felt light coming back onto him.  And then, sensing himself in a large room with many people, he rose from his resting place, looked around him, and smiled.  And then one of the people said, ‘Welcome,’ and Jan Kolby was finally, and eternally, home.  Final Words I guess, reader, if anything is true in life is that we don’t always get what we want, or even expect.  We often dream dreams and have great wishes for a wonderful life.  But, tragically, for so many of us what we want most desperately often fails to materialize.  Even with our most fervent prayers to the one. But if there is one thing I have learned in this sojourn so far, it is that the One really is out there, watching over us, working in our hearts, and leading us on in a destiny which may just last forever. What is beyond this shroud called life nobody really knows, for who has ever come back to tell us? But like you, and like Jan Kolby, I am a walker in this mystery of life, treading down its often hectic pathways, making the best of it that I possibly can.  It is not always easy.  God knows it is not always that.  There are trying times, for all of us I would imagine, bringing challenges which challenge the bravest of hearts.  But, with a little courage, with a little strength, with a little faith, we can make it through this mystery into, hopefully, a better day. I wish all of you who read this text a very happy day and week and year ahead.  Rimwalker will return, inevitably, in some future life.  But for now I bid you farewell, and if any of us are destined to meet in this thing called life, I can only wish it to be under the best of circumstances.  Goodbye to all. THE END

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