Rimwalker

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Chapter 12

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.


’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.


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. 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.


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.


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.

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.


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 haveyour 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.

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