Tales of the Union

By Vanessa_Ravencroft All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Action

The Chamber of the Seven Giants

Feature article found in the December 5029 (OTT) issue of the Union Galactographic Magazine

Written and researched by Alex Cunningham.

For this assignment I travelled the 72,000 light years from Blue Moon to Klackt in a day. Before Space trains and HHWs, a ship travelled almost six month.

From Klackt to Archa in two days aboard the fast Clipper Silk Express. The destination of my journey was still 6,000 light years away, if I could take the direct route.

But the sizeable part of Coreward Freespace made a direct approach risky. Of course civilian ships could cross it, but there was no guarantee of making it.

In this lawless region, Union fleet was not allowed. Pirates loves nothing better than to raid a civilian clipper. I had been into Freespace a few times and was thanking Mickey for keeping me safe.

Since our competition magazine only recently had a very nice feature on Archa. I decided to stay at Archa Moon Port, and wait for my Liner connection to Tink.

The lounge of J’thaik Coreward Inc. was as comfortable as such places could be. Dark green carpets, upholstered Vari-Form seats and a set of floor to ceiling curved transparent panels allowing a view over the crater riddled but otherwise featureless gray dust surface of Archa Moon. Archa, the planet however was as beautiful as Earth coming up over the curved horizon.

While I had seen many Space Ports, and this was no different, except for the organic Archa elements here and there. The businesses and restaurants offering milk products and ice cream outnumbered everything else,and not a single business was deserted, they all did brisk business withchirping and arm waving, crawling all over Archas. I had stepped back out of the lounge to have a better look at this utterly fascinating display of huge spiders virtually everywhere, ceilings walls and floors far outnumbering beings and travelers of other species.

Arthur’s Swine and Dine actually had a line all the way out the door.

Every other Arthur’s was selling ribs and burgers and one or two desert options in form of soft serve.

This one featured eight chrome gleaming robotic Ice cream machines, and a two page menu with ice cream flavors. At the end of the menu were two burger choices.

I noticed one of the employees in the traditional pig costume, take his mask of and taking a break. From the blocky features, and developed muscles I was certain he was a young Humano Bot.

I greeted him “Very busy today?”

“Mister, its Firstday morning. Most Archas work, this is just the usual crowd of school kids, mostly.” He looked to the line of spiders.” Well school kids, their mothers and teachers too.”

He took a sip of the coke he held.” You should see this place on an Eightday afternoon, when they have Spiderman specials in the big retro theatre.”

A Klack with nervous shaking Antenna clutching a brief case close to his thorax and dressed in an expensive business suit, made of Archa silk on his way to the lounge said, overhearing it.” Queen’s Abdomen, I think would pass out!”

He went on and I said to the Humano Bot.” Don’t they have such places down on the planet?”

“There are approximately 6.5 billion Archas down there. Each and every one addicted to ice cream. Eating at least two cones a day. Adding up to about 405.000 million metric tons every year. We keep running out!”

“They don’t get tired of it?”

“Archas tired of ice cream? Since Science Corps found out that this is actually healthy for them, has more energy and vitamins than Nuflugs. They don’t get fat just bigger.”

“Maybe I need to come back and find out more about it.”

“You do that Sir, I am about to go back in.”

“Tough job?”

“Yep, but the Archas always tip, are never rude. The most polite beings I think. Besides being an Arthur’s employee here is like a ticket to management. Do you know the restaurant manager of the eight restaurants we have here on the moon, makes the same salary as the region manager Sol System. We are building twenty more restaurants as we speak. Tough job now, restaurant manager tomorrow and a Tree House with ocean view on Archa to retire in.”

He waved put the pigs head back on and was greeted and high fived by the spiders like a sports star on his way to the ring, as he joined his hard working colleagues behind the service counter.

With a cone of soft serve in my left, I returned to the lounge. There were about sixty passengers or so waiting to board the Blauba Red, flag ship of the J’thaik Coreward Inc.

According to an info board, this would commence in about 15 minutes.

I noticed the Klack business man standing with two more Klack and a being I think was a Tinkeheel.

Since they were the only ones other than me in the A Deck line. I simply asked.” Excuse me, for asking, but about that comment you made, you don’t like Archa?”

“Human, I am Klack. Archas very much resemble what Huttnn’tkt looks like. Now I know it is superstition. Our queen is best friends with the Sac Mother. Arriving jointly at the Diamond Ball, but 100,000 years of ingrained genetic fear is not easy to overcome. Intellectually I know they are friendly, emotionally it takes all my will power not to run in panic”

The Blauba Red, was not one of the main line giants, but it was still a 990 meter DeNoir Marseille Class passenger and freight ship that would take me almost 15,000 light year further towards Galactic South and to the home system of a very recently joined member, the Tinkeheel. They joined us less than ten years ago.

From what I heard they had been at the verge of extinction, almost wiped out by the aggressive Siucra.

The Siucra were a forgotten Thrall species of our special friends the Kermac. Not even the Kermac appeared to have known that they still existed. Guarding the original abandoned home world of the Kermac, known as Koken.

The story went like this: A Union explorer ship unknowingly closing on Koken and was attacked without warning. Something all Galactic Council species controlled by the Kermac seemed to be very good at. The ship was lost, many hands perished.

The survivors tried to escape in escape pods and long range shuttles. Yet these vile Siucra attacked the unarmed escape pods.

In a truly historic decision, the Klack queen sent the only armed ship with a chance of making it in time.

The only remaining active Klackt Battle moon (UGM 5/4998 “The biggest Antiques”)

The Moon was just about to make its first test flight, with the largest ISAH pods ever built, she decided to abandon this test and risk a sacred and irreplaceable antique to rescue handful survivors of the Union explorer.

Boarding commenced and it didn’t take long. The steward was just opening the door to my suite, as the space port buildings and the moon surface dropped away outside the view ports.

The porter, a Kathk Oghr put my bag down and thanked me for the ten credit tip and said. “I am a big fan of your magazine Mr. Cunningham. That feature you did three years ago about the Hidden Chambers of Kathkko palace was of course my favorite. I guess the Tinkeheel are next?” (UGM 1/5026 “Hidden Chambers of Kathkko”)

“Maybe some other time, I am going all the way to Tomb World.”

“I am looking forward to see your feature.”

“Has Kathk applied yet?”

He shook his head. “No not yet and by the things are going we won’t ever apply.”

“That surprises me. I hardly visited a society more ready and excited, what changed?”

“Nothing, Sir. As you know we got rid of our king about twenty years ago and we decided to become a democracy. We still try trying to untangle all those deeply encrusted nobles from our government in a peaceful way. This is of course the issue the PUMA report identified.”

“It does not sound like a big hurdle.”

“No it is not but it drags on and most don’t want to wait. Of the 89 Kathk worlds that made up our old Kingdom, 24 already joined the Union. Simply by declaring themselves independent from the rest and applying. Millions who are of the old worlds with lots of the Old structures and Nobles still trying to run things, simply immigrated and every day millions more do. I did it, eight years ago. By the time we are ready to join, we already have.” He spread his big arms. “We are going to be the only society that joined the Union by osmosis.”

“Now that might be a great story too. Does it bother you?”

“Why should it? It should be an option for all societies who can’t make up their mind or when the PUMA report finds too much issues their leaders can’t or won’t fix. Let them immigrate individually. Saves the integration department lots of time and credits. Everyone integrates themselves.”

“You should tell that to OOP, sounds like a great idea to me.”

“You know, I am going to do that right after my shift ends, but while I am still on duty, is there anything else I can serve you with?”

“No I kept you long enough. Just suggest a good restaurant before you go.”

“The Aft View recently was awarded with the Golden Spoon. Natural Sourced, Carbon / NiOx specialized. Not too crowded. “


After I had freshened up, called my wife and my editor I took the Carpet slide towards the rear of the ship instead of using IST

I made that decision because four Ellie entered it before me, one holding a bag of Stink Pulse maggots. I did not want to take the chance to be in a confined room while they sampled a few. (UGM 3/5018 “The Assembly Evacuation Incident”)

Of course I could have taken the next capsule, but I didn’t want to be misunderstood why I rather not shared the IST, so I stayed on the carpet slide.

A few doors ahead, a Holdian stepped out of his cabin and onto the slide just as I moved past. He greeted me and then studied something on his PDD.

A Datry floated in his Phys-Aide-Shell from behind and caught up with us. The large Polyplacophoran life form from Andromeda said while thousands of stubby tentacles wriggled like a field of finger long worms. “You made a good choice citizens. They just shut down the forward ISTs. I understand an Elly guest had an accident with a food item.”

I thanked my instincts and the little Holdian added. “Thankfully you do not have a sense of smell, Stink Pulse Maggots caused the Narth representative to become sick and the old Highlander losing his lunch.”

“I bought me an olfactory nose simulator just three month ago. This is why too choose this route to the aft.”

The belt had carried our group to the end of the corridor and deposited us on the top tier of the Red Mall gallery. A transparent chest high balustrade separating it from a cavernous cylindrical room of at least 200 meters across and twice as deep. Above us a transparent roof with the star filled eternal night of space and below huge circular shaped swimming pool, with passengers bathing and lounging.

The Datry wished us a safe journey and directed his Phys-Aide over the barrier and descended fast towards the pool.

The Holdian also went on his way, while I made mine towards the tinted glass doors on the other side. A floating sign identified them as the entrance to the Aft View Restaurant.

It was still early in the day, just a few minutes past Eight-Hour (about 11:00 in OTT) Union Standard and only a few guests other than me had come here to eat,

While Union standard divided the ten hours active and ten hours rest periods and did not use any local day and night standards or times (Only the fleet still used the age old Earth based 24:00 hour day) most of the Union disregarded the natural day and night cycles of local world and organized their live according to Union time. The Aft View Restaurant was only one of many places one could go to eat, not to mention you could have food served just about anywhere. It was listed as a dinner place and that explained the few guests.

A heart stopping beautiful Delicate, looking as if an artist of great skill combined a flower, a butterfly with a human female shape using semi translucent materials in the softest pastel peach, pink and blue hues and draped whispering wisps of finest Archa silk over these human sized living piece of art.

I could never tell where the silk merged with the shimmering insubstantial wings, or determine if they walked or floated.

She greeted me.” Good day, Sir. I am Meliea your hostess. Are you planning to eat or have a drink at the bar?”

Her round face surrounded by hip long hair of soft pink dominated by huge green eyes, above a tiny nose and a tiny mouth, was just like that of any Delicate but I could never really stop to stare, no matter how often I interacted with one of this race that joined the Union only about fifty years ago and came from the furthest regions of the Large Magellan Cloud.

Her voice was melodic with a silvery din and she asked the same question switching to Squack.

“Please accept my apologies for staring, in my defense please consider that I find Delicates fascinating and beautiful and you surpass all I have seen so far.”

“No apologies necessary, I too catch myself staring when confronted with all the many forms life has taken.”

“I am here for dinner actually, a bit early perhaps.”

“It is never too early for good food, Sir.”

She guided me to a table right by the big view ports. This region was thinly populated, but I could see a few brilliant stars turned into quasi streaks and of course the bright blue glare of the ISAH pod to the side.

With a swiping gesture she activated the Candle and the avatar copy of a leather bound menu flickered into existence before me.

“May I kindly inquire if you have a suite number or are you traveling on a Space Bus Ticket, Sir?”

“Suite 12-12”

“Thank you. Can I get you something to drink? Ovidio your waiter will be with you shorty.”

“A Green Saresii Spriz made with Vodka, please.” Before she left I asked her. “Space bus?”

“Yes Sir, J’thaik Coreward Inc. provides space bus service to Tink. They have joined us only recently and the necessary infrastructure for regular space bus is not in place. Regular space busses are not able to bridge the 14,434 Light years. Space Bus tickets are subsidized and most of the amenities provided are not included in that ticket.”

She floated away.

Ovido was a stocky human and he took my order, recommended an excellent Thauran wine to the Filet mignon I ordered. It was perfectly aged, tender and grilled to medium rare perfection.

As he took the plate away and I asked for coffee. I noticed a red and blue flash outside.” Did you see that?”

“Yes, that was probably one of the Wolfcraft escorts, overtaking us. As long as they stay behind their photons never catch up with us so they stay invisible, but if they zip by close enough you can sometimes see a flash.”

“Wolfcrafts? We have an escort?”

“Red, display interpreted view.” He said

The empty space changed. A Union Fleet escort became visible .I counted nine Wolfcraft and two Scorpions

I was not easily scared but the fleet would not provide this kind of protection if this was safe space.

“When my Travel arrangements were made I was assured the route to Tomb World is safe.”

The waiter said. “No it’s not safe but the safest. “

A voice behind me said. “The other route via Orkh-Ogh and Garra to Quadro is about 3500 light years shorter, but as long as the war rages, it isn’t safe and traffic is rerouted to Tink.”

I turned to a human man sitting at the next table. Wearing a black turtle neck and a kimo cut suit. He, like the waiter was of stocky built but was clean shaven. Before him a sniffer with a coppery liquid and a cigar in his right.

The blue smoke did not penetrate the invisible odor shield, almost all restaurants that expected to serve guests with very different ideas of what smelled offensive and what not, evident in the Stinkbug incident earlier.

Even though he wore civilian clothing, he had this unmistakable flair of a person spending most of his life in the military.

“What war, Sir? I am fairly up to date. We are not in any war!”

“Sir, theUnion is not at war as a whole, but we are currently involved in 788 local conflicts in three Galaxies, prepare forpossible wars in the Small Magellan Cloud, one in the Fornax dwarf and we expect the Shiss to make their move within this century. Half the Upward is under alert because all Non Dai united in one big tribe.”

He gestured toward the viewport. “One would think there is space for everyone without ever needing to fight. Besides not all wars involve the Union.”

“I am Alex Cunningham of the Union Galactographic Magazine. Can you tell me about the war you are referring, I am traveling to Tomb World.”

“Stanislavsky Kowalski. Friends, and my crew call me Stan. I know your magazine, my XOloves it. “

There across me sat a Union Fleet Captain. No matter what species or society they belonged to, they had a collective flair of unshakeable confidence. No group of beings was more respected and admired the galaxy over.

The Nul who had been our enemies until very recently told how much they respected Union Captains.

“Sir, would you want to join me at my table. It would be an honor to treat you to a desert perhaps. Conversation is also easier.”

He pointed at his cigar. ”Not everyone agrees with this.”

“I don’t mind at all. My wife smokes Terra-stix.”

He got up, took his drink and came over.

“Do call me Stan. I don’t really like it at work and this is not a formal dinner.”

“Would not everyone aboard your ship call you Sir?”

“By Union regulations yes, but on the Bremerton only new transfers do it.”

“Your officers do not use Sir, what do they use instead?”

“Everyone officers and enlisted call me Stan.”

“I take it the Bremerton is an explorer then or a small craft?”

“She isn’t the biggest, but still a full sized battle ship.”

I digested this information, but it was known that Captains had their own command styles. “How about that desert, I promised?”

“Why not. I recommend Tink-Flam.”

I ordered two and asked. “What war is it you were referring to?”

“The Lapdir Expansion war.”

While Ovidio served two light brown cone shaped wet shimmering things on a plate. “I think I heard the name before, but without my Data Brain connection I would have to consult GalNet with my PDD.”

“Even the best data brain has a very limited range, but then there isn’t much room to put a bigger pulse converter inside your head.” He pointed to the desert using his spoon. It’s fresh, sweet and made from vegetarian ingredients.”

He was right, it was good and cool and reminded me of a mild eycaliptus.”

“We are on the other side of Freespace so to speak. In the old terminology Freespace, Togar, Joltaar and all the others are Galactic North of us. In the same region and covering quite a chunk of space are the Shattered Kingdoms. Down here they are the big boys. Of the old Empire nine remain , not counting the ones that joined.”

“I did a piece on the Kathk Oghr a few years back and I think this is where I heard about Lapdir.”

“The Kathk are basically the cause for the war. Not that this region has ever been a peaceful one, ever since their Empire fell apart, and wars were fought long before the Union.”

“But would the Union not assist the Kathk, they are more or less members already.”

“Yes it was there decision to join, but the Kathk are not really involved. None of the others are that brave, a Battle group is patrolling Kathk space, not that the Kathk would be helpless without it.

The main reason is that the old Kathk Nobles were allied with Or-ghe and the Laurins and thus creating a powerful fraction. Keeping the Lapdir and Orc-Oghr in check.

The Kathk sweept their Nobles aside and dethroned their king, quite literally I might add. They then applied for Union membership. Since neither the Laurin nor the Or-ghe had similar intentions, the long alliance fell apart. The Lapdir attacked Prokodd , a wealthy Laurin world. The Or-ghe felt betrayed because the Laurin did not send help against an Orc-Oghr raid.”

He smashes the desert with his fork. “In other words this region is burning once again.”

“Fascinating indeed, but what amazes me most is your ability to keep all those Oghr species apart.”

“Even after stationed in this region and patrolling it for thirty years, I get them mixed up. Well this is my last trip in this region for a long time. The Bremerton has a new CO and I am transferred.” He finished his drink and waved for another one.

“Is it classified or can I ask why?”

“No it is not classified. We made first contact with the Tinkeheel. After what they experienced during their first contact with the Siucra, they are very grateful and treat us like saints. No matter how often we told them that it is not necessary, there are about a million kids named Stan. Anyway in two weeks they celebrate the restoration of their capitol city. It was renamed Bremerton City. The Tinkeheel invited us all. Fleet command prohibited it. So we all will be there as civilians.”

“And that is why you lost the command of the battle ship?”

“No, I fully agree with commands decision. Celebrating the Union, the fleet is fine, but don’t single out individuals. We don’t do this for the glory.

The Old Highlander knows we are going and organized a charter for most of the 8500 members of my crew.

I was promoted, Alex. The biggest problem the fleet has is us old Captains clinging to our command seats like Velcro. I am Captain for 39 years and rejected every promotion and transfer offer. My XO is with me for almost that long, never wanted to be transferred or promoted.

When Fleet Command looked for an experienced officer to command Fornax Hub, I asked for it, traded my Captain bars for a star and in three month. I take a trip of almost two year to my new command. The Bremerton is now under the Command of Captain Gectuv my former XO.”

I had listened to his explanation and now as he lit his cigar again, as it had gone out,I said. “Having tenured Captains is a problem?”

“Yes it is. McElligott always looks for experienced officers that have command experience, to join Fleet Command. Yet 90% of our captains, virtually die in their command seats or retire that is.” While he spoke he glanced outside. If it wasn’t for my stubborn XO who would not transfer…”

He thanked Meliea who brought him the drink, as Ovidio was serving other guest. It appeared the Aft View restaurant did not rely on robots.

He raised his glass looked at it. It can’t be explained Alex. Our Eternal Warrior is grumpy and miserable when he has to be the Admiral, but give him a rusty destroyer with acrew of the wildest cut throats and tell him he has to fight the Devi, you should see him then. It’s not the Admiral thing that makes him the legend he is. Stahl is first and foremost a Starship Captain. Something we all are until the day we die.”

A gigantic Saturnian stomped by.”Please appolgize my intrusion Sir, but when you spoke about the Eternal Warrior. I could not help but overhear your last words. The Saturnian stood almost as if he was in Attention.” With all due respect and not wanting to offend, but Richard Stahl is many things: Admiral, Soldier and Captain but he only holds one title he cares for…”

Kowalski stood up, raised glass.“Aye, you are correct and I chose the wrong words. He is of course a Marine first of all things.”

They both shouted.”Semper Fi.” And the monsterous humanoid returned to his party two tables down.

“Alex, to us he is a hero, a historiocal figure, but to the Marines he’s is God and I know Stahl would rip me to pieces just saying that.”

“I travel the Union for a living, Stan. This wasn’t the first time I something like this happens.

I could not suppress a giggle. “You know Elmore’s Port One?”

“Who doesn’t. The Queens’ 200th jubilee at Klackt is a quited small occation compared to a day on Elmore.”

“I did a story there. I watched as a gang of criminal hoodlums harassed a group of elderly Sarans. I was too far. Police was nowhere in sight. The gang was armed with clubs and blades.

One of the old guys yelled as loud as he could for help. No one reacted as you know how loud it is.”

Stan nodded.

“The crocks actually started to hit the old people. A woman she must have been near her 300th birthday yelled. “You called Stahl a swine?”

It was like a magnet, every Marine in the Crowd stopped, plowed like landing tanks through the masses.

I almost felt sorry for the crooks, three marines had responded and they tore those eight hoodlums apart.”

Stan laughed with tears in his eyes. That was one smart lady.”

Again a red and blue flash occurred outside.

“But this region is far from the Ogre wars, why the escort?”

“We are not in Union Space, most of this region is unexplored. The Siucra are beaten but we don’t know if we got them all. Pirates might find this region much safer and with less competition. Not to mention that we found Koken, the birthplace of the Kermac. I am sure they know about it by now, and not too happy that we found their cradle.

Besides this ship now delivers Union Mail.”

“Let us hope there isn’t anything out there the Wolfcraft can’t handle.”

“You should do one of your features on the Navy, Alex. There is a squadron Wolfcrafts out there and two Scorpions. Lots of fire power and speed my friend.

The very first Scorpion tested and flown some years back, defeated a full size Kermac T-Cruiser in about five seconds flat.”

I wasn’t impressed. “The Kermac, everyone knows they are weak with inferior tech.”

Alex you are a nice Guy., but it is this ‘I know everything attitude’ that made never like reporters and the like very much. Have you ever seen a T-Cruiser?”

I had to admit I never did.

“The Kermac rule over a sizeable piece of our Galaxy, their technology is behind but not by as much as you might think. On average we are on TL 8. But that takes into account the Narth, the Saresii, Leedei and the Terrans on one end and the Shail, Xiptin and Bellebee with not a lick of tech. Do you know how many TL 3 and 4 societies it takes to balance the scale against the likes of the Narth?”

“Actually I do Stan, that is what I do after all, but our Union is now almost at TL 9 and from what I know there is no GC species exceeding TL 7.”

“As far as we know this is indeed the case, but all GC is on TL 7 and they are on that Level a long time. Meaning everything is on the same level and while there seems little in terms of development. What they do have is solid and works very well.

Kermac engines are slower, less powerful but a Kermac Pod outlasts the best ISAH Pod 20,000 light year service levels are standard. Our best engines need servicing at 12,000.

They do not have Translocators or ParaDim, but they developed a system that hampers our targeting. Their Shimmer shields are far better than ours. We stopped developing Shimmer shields because Para and now the new Transdim are technologically far advanced. Do you know why Union Ships have triple redundancy shields?”

I shrugged, “As a backup?”

“This is a benefit yes, but the main reason is they weren’t as reliable at first. They are very complex and difficult to repair. It takes much computing power. A Para Dim shield interferes with ISAH Drive and Translocator cannons. There have to be gaps, and the modulation has to be perfect to ten digits behind the comma. The main reason for three shields is that so we can deactivate one if there is trouble. We lost more ships in the first decades to shield malfunctions than enemy fire.

No doubt we have the best shields, but we haven’t perfected them. The comparable simple shields of the Kermac work flawless.

You do know about Super Symmetry and Quasi Space and all that, right?”

I ordered me another coffee and said. “I know what they teach in school and I am traveling a lot, picking up on things. From what I understand the ISAH engines create some sort of slide board on which the ship skims Quasi Space. Why it has to be symmetrical, I don’t know but it is important.”

“Good enough, what I wanted to tell you is, that Para and TransDim shields prevent the Isah field to do it’s thing. But to approach Threshold speed without shields is not a good idea, micro matter and all that, So Union ships turn off their shields a microsecond before transition. Now ships do this all the time, but if you time it wrong you hit the light wall or flip past Quasi Space. Shimmer shields can stay on. So higher tech not always means better.

Fiv or six T Cruisers commanded by someone knowing what to do could go toe to toe with a Super cruiser and twenty would be bad news for a Battle Ship,

So an acting Ensign flying a ship for real, defeating a T Cruiser and in less time than you eating a crème donut, is one of the finest examples of skill. The engagement is taught in the Academy, Sir.”

“I am sorry if it sounded wrong. Acting Ensign?
“Yes because he was just a second year Cadet.”

“Sounds like a remarkable individual.”

“I know only second hand stories, never met Captain Olafson, but even the little that is declassified makes him one hell of an Officer. One rumor has it, he is Stahl,s son. Another says Stahl just calls him “Son”. Some say it is a female.” He smiled. “Anyhow those Flyboys will keep you safe. Thank you for the desert.”

We exchanged a few more words and then the Union Officer left.


I was tempted to spend a few days on Tink. Seeing Wurgus and Army Corps of Engineers repair a planet was a sight to see and worth a story for sure, but the next ship to Quadro would not leave for two weeks, if I missed the connection.

The next to last leg of my trip was quite eventless, even though the sixhundred passengers were a tad nervous.

The report of an intense space battle in a system dispute between two Oghr species.

Now the small passenger ship would not drop out of Quasi until we arrived in Sei System, and the fourth planet Quadro, but the words intense, space battle and nearby did not exactly sound to assuring.

Quadro was the most distant Union claimed system in Coreward. It had served as stagingdepot and fleet base during the lastwar.It was also mentioned in reports about the most secretive war the Union ever fought. It was called the Back Door War. While it was not kept secret, it simply appeared no one ever really reported about it.

Quadro was a very nice Garden world. The Fleet maintained their Coreward Foreward base on Planet Tre.

The Science Corps had an Explorer base here as well. So the system was well defended and quite busy and developed for a place so far from Union main space.

My destination was another 300 light years away and while it was home to a Union community, it was not a Union planet and not in Union Space.

Eight days later I debarked the armed space bus and stood at the landing field that wasn’t more than leveled rock and dirt. Wheeled vehicles picked me and about three hundred adventure tourists up and took us to a large tent structure, it reminded me in shape and size of a Circus tent .(UGM.6/4999 “Traveling Show”)

Unlike a Circus tent, it was of a dusty white color. Several modern modular buidings were stacked around and under it.

Two Marine tanks with their guns aimed on a collection of buildings, barely visible in the distance on the other side of the landing field, shimmering like a mirage in the shimmering heat. Behind them stood a three story tall Army Battle walker.

Four Union Soldiers in Army Green looking relaxed, reclining in the upturned hand of the walker and watched us climb of the buses and queue up at the CITI control.

In contrast to the relaxed soldier watched a quad of Marines in Quasimodos coming around the other side of the big tent, marching in patrol formation, weapons at the ready.

A human woman with a rather big lower back side complained to her travel companion, another woman with an even bigger behind. “The heat is unbearable and there is dust everywhere. “

Both wore very tight bright red colored suits of a shimmering material. The suits adorned with golden patterns. Why some women dressed in the worst possible way, wore colors to make sure they could not possibly overlooked was not exactly a mystery but my answer was not to be printed.

Of course I knew of the Natural grow movement that started around thousand years ago and its supporters opposed genetic or cosmetic corrections. The basic idea actually appealed to me, as Scot Eazy the founder of Nat Grow argued that he was sick and tired in a world everyone was perfect looking. He called people the Cookie Cutter crowd.

However for every good idea there were weighty arguments against it. Like the two color sense challenged, chatter boxes before me.

The SPCA officer, a Klack checked my CITI and said. “Welcome to Tom World. Please be aware that this is not a Union World. I see you are not part of a travel group and want to make you aware of the Tomb Stone Visitor information center over there.”

I thanked him and entered the Tomb Stone Spaceport lobby.

Despite its apparent primitive, temporary character. The floor underneath the tent was the usual gleaming white Plasti-Stone found at many ports.

There were a few souvenir shops, Tourist offices and an Arthur’s. While there also was a Stirr-N-Fry and a Galactic Waffle House, I smiled as I saw the robotic pig standing ontop of the red and white pre fab building and waving to everyone passing by. If there wasn’t a Swine and Dine you could be certain you weren’t in the Union anymore.

There even was a small version of the Rest and Recreation parks, very small , maybe only ten meters in diameter, but there was a tree and grass.

The port was not very busy, despite the weekly space bus arrival. The tourists that came with me had dispersed.

In general I never did much research before I left for an assignment. My office made the travel arrangements and I traveled there, looked around till some condition or feature caught my eye and then collected information and images until I felt I had enough for a a feature.

Tomb World had been discovered simultaneous by the Union and the Galactic Council during the last war. Damaged ships of both sides landed here and discovered the remains of a technological civilization. The Union side believed it could be Seenian and GC believed they found UNI ruins.

Both sides called for significant resources to fight and secure this world.

The Nul and some previously unknown species the Belmac interfered.

The Planet was split in a Union and a GC side.

It turned out the ruins to be neither Seenian nor UNI. However the entire crust of the planet appeared to be honey combed with artificial and natural caves, passages and caverns. Filled with graves, urns, catacombs and mausoleums. Hundred different skeletal remains belonging to completely different species have been discovered so far.

A huge Necropolis underneath the planets north pole was virtually unexplored.

So I entered the modular container office of the Visitor’s information center.

The walls were adorned with posters of catacombs and images of the Necropolis, pictures of the Belmac . A statuesque Ebony Elfin , with deep brown skin and long hair consisting of hundreds of thin long braids , wearing the Uniform of the Science Corps got up from behind a desk and greeted me, while a Maggi Sauron and a floating pancake had a conversation in the back. The Maggi Sauron did gave me a greeting nod, and the red and yellow pancake thing made wave like motions with its edge.

“Good afternoon,Sir. I am Specialist Odoro . Welcome to Tomb World. What is it that brings you to this world?”

“I am Alex Cunningham, of the Union Galactic Magazine and I am planning a feature. So I am interested in more or less anything.”

“I know your magazine and your features. Mr. Cunningham. I guess the best thing is to give you the history of this world and the Union interest and then you could book a room at the Peak Top hotel , or perhaps at the Maw of Death hotel . I am fairly certain the rooms at Downstairs Hotel are all booked. Of course there is a Holiday Inn right here at the port.”

The strange pan cake being came floating over. It was about a meter in diameter, had a hump like center. “Good afternoon Mr.Cunningham.I am Dr. Sploth and the science corps lead and if you like you can accompany Dr. Frang , my Maggi Saurian colleague tomorrow on an expedition down into to the necropolis as we are going to examine a new discovered passage.”

“Oh that is exactly the kind of thing I can use for my story. I thank you for the invitation.”

“You are welcome. Your features have provided me with many hours of well spend recreation. I was always hoping you would one day come to Galbar Rot and do one of your features on us. This is of course a not so hidden suggestion.”

“I am always look for new material and venues. I never heard of Galbar Rot.”

“Of course you are eager to learn about Tomb World, but Galbar Rot is a Gasgiant in the Spinward sector and our home, we are the Hotzies . What you see before you is of course only an Avatar projection as it is a technical challenge for us to physically travel.”

“Yes I gladly keep a visit to Galbar Rot in mind. I had planned to do a story on Jovian Planet Lifeforms for a long time.”

“We can talk about this perhaps before you leave Tomb World. Specialist Odoro will fill you into the somewhat unique conditions of Tomb World.”

With that the Avatar of the Pizza shaped being floated away.

The Ebony Elfin offered me a seat and said . “Tomb World is a very dry world, air humidity is virtually non existent and good hydration is always strongly recommended for Carbon based life forms like yourself. May I offer you something, as my lecture might also be dry and take a few moments.”

“Yes, a cold ice tea would be very welcome,if you have any.”

She handed me a glass moments later and activated a field screen.

“Tomb World is the burial ground of many hundred different species. There are mummified and skeletetized remains of beings as small as thirty centimeters and as big as three meters. There are also remains of a species known only as the Dead . It is believed they are the originators and creators of this planet sized tomb. They are to be considered still able to make decsissions and represented by the Belmac , who could rely on the Nul and their own considerable fleet and TL 7 for not being overheard or ignored. “

This planet was simultaneous discovered by the Union and the Galactic Council durin the last war. Initially the Union believed to have found a Seenian depot or planet of sorts and the Kermac were convinced it was a lost UNI installation.

Both sides send considerable resources and fleets to secure the planet.

Out of the proverbial nowhere,the advanced Belmac appeared with a sizeable fleet, reinforced by the largest Nul fleet ever seen. The Nul declared to have an honor debt and would do anything the Belmac requested, including going to war.

The Belmac declared that they are not the owners of this world. Only the caretakers, and the living voice of the Dead. They said that it is the will of the Dead, that no one should be denied access to this world, but prohibited permanent construction, aerchologial digs or the removal of remains or artifacts. They also prohibited flying devices within the atmosphere. All conveyance has to be done by ground effect vehicles.

The Nul established a garrison to monitor and enforce these rules.

No open contact exist. All communication must go via the Nul”

“But haven’t the Nul not declared the cesasiton of all hostilites and even the possibility of the Nul joining the Union is discussed as we speak?”

“Indeed, and the development of this new era of Union/ Nul cooperation and friendship is developing faster than anyone anticipated. Some undisclosed event in Freespace involving the next Nul ruler, prince Xon was the initial reason, but it appears there had been friendly or at least respectful Union / Nul contact for years between the Union Ranger service along the border for decades.

As far as the situation on Tomb World however, they officially declared that nothing has changed. However, reality is different and Union Marines are already exercising and do joint patrols with the Nul and the local Nul Commandant has applied for Union Citizenship just recently.

This is making the Kermac and the Belmac a tad nervous, but for now the Status Quo is mainained. The Assembly has given strict instructions to do nothing that could compromise or embarrass the Nul in any shape or form . As a matter of fact, all intelligence and clandestine activity has officially been prohibited now.”
“Did the Nul explain why they are involved? This planet is quite distant to Nul space.”
“No, they have not and we are not to ask until they decide to explain themselves.”

“But visiting the Nul enclave is possible?”
“Yes, a request can be made. However I strongly advise you read the full text of the Assembly Instructions regarding the Nul on this world. The possibility of the Nul joining the Union is very real and very close as it appears and the Assembly want to make sure the Nul know we are a dependable and respectful partner. Besides many of the Union Marines that are here have formed friendships with the local Nul and they are taking the Assembly Instructions very serious. So extreme caution as what to ask and do is advised.”

“Before I go, may I ask why the Science Corps is operating this Visitor Information Center?”

“Because this world is not a Union World and the Union presence here is under the supervision of the Science Council.”

“Well I guess that is all I need to know for now. How do I get to the Peak Hotel?”

“Proceed to the East Exit of the Port. There are Desert Busses leaving for Downstairs every hour. At Downstairs you can hire a Stairbus that takes you all the way to the peak of the highest mountain.

I can contact the Peak Hotel for you to see if they have anything available.”
“That would be appreciated.”

She made the call and booked the Peak suite for me.

After thanking her and waving to the two scientists, I left the office and proceeded as requested to the East Exist that was clearly marked with signage.

There the Plasti-Stone surface changed into a metal grading.Sitting on a frame with metal feet supports resting on the bare ground. It was now clearly evident that the entire structure was indeed of a temporary nature and could be broken down into removable elements.

A digital read out sign attached to a metal post, informed me, that the next connection to Downstairs was due in 28 minutes.

The platform was deserted at first, but then the first Nul I ever saw approaced the divider also seeming to wait for whatever vehicle would come and take us to Downstairs.

Seeing one of these giants for real was somewhat unsettling. Considering that these formidable warriors had been declared Union enemies until very recently.

The being was at least three meters tall and had the appearance of a walking coil of robes stacked up in the rough aproximation of a humand shape. It had two arms and two massive legs. The head was sitting like a dome between its shoulders without a neck, featuring a singular eye with two pupils and a frightening vertical maw.

Then I saw a second Nul, without question a child, smaller than me running towards the big being holding a bag of Arthur’s in one hand and a souvenir plastic pig mask in the other. I had never suspected to see a Nul child.

As alien the Nul were, this child acted just like any child, holding up it souvenir to show it to its parent and then presenting the bag.

I almost overlooked the third alien stepping onto the platform.Wearing a long beige robe. The head appeared to have a distant relation to the head of a horse, but with eight eyes and bat shaped ears. The skin was a deep purple.

He greeted me . “Welcome to Tomb World, Union Citizen. I hope you have a pleasant stay and perhaps taking new insights and impressions back home.”
“Thank you.”
“Unless you are intending to stay, of course.”

The voice convinced me that he was male, and also that his friendliness was only a very thin layer of hidden disaproval.”
“No I don’t intend to stay.”

“I was just wondering as you don’t look like the usual Union tourist. While we are still amazed about the diversity of beings claiming to be Union Citizens, we learned that there is a pattern to those who are tourists.”
While the being was a Belmac and more or less the local authority and while he acted friendly, I noticed the increasing sharp edge in his tone and I was also wondering why he was so inquisitive about me.

“I assure you the title of Union Citizen is earned and not claimed. The diversity is only apparent in shape and outer differences. We Union Citizens take great pride in the inner harmony and sameness that unites us.”

“That is indeed evident in all of you. One could almost think, it is some kind of virus, now even spreading to the Nul.” He quickly added. “Just an analogy of course.”

“You do not seem to be a fan of the Union or approve of our presence.”
“The Dead have no objection to your presence and I am but a servant to the Dead.”

“Well this is as good as an answer to my question as a direct admission that you personally have some kind of reservation.”

“To be frank, I think the Union is an arrogant society of bullies, having little respect for other societies. To us there appears little difference between you and the Kermac.”

“Well anyone is entitled to an oppinion, even a society that believes the Dead actually communicate.”

My answer was sharper than I intended it to be, but it came out before I could really stop it.

“Sad fact is,that they do and welcomed you. The wisdom of the Dead can not be questioned.”

“And since you do it anyway, what does this say about your religion?”
He turned and walked away.

I could have tried to be a little more forgiving and tried to find out more about the reason for his sentiment, but him comparing th Union with the Kermac was hard to take.

A big vehicle on wide tracks came crawling up to the platform and extended short boarding bridges to its access doors.

A Thauran in a gray uniform appeared from the drivers compartment and invisible field speakers amplified his voice. “Leaving for Downstairs in five minutes.”
Then he waved at the Nul kid and it went running towards him and entered the vehicle control section.

A few more passengers had appeared and boarded the vehicle.

I found a seat next to a big view port,and moments later the vehicle started moving.It followed the line of deep track marks pointing toward far distant mountain, across a featureless rock and dust surface.

I also noticed that the Nul had found a seat across the isle and was sitting with a human woman, apparently Saran, judging by her hair style and complexion.

The Belmac was sitting by himself all the way in the back.

All together there were six more passengers: Two Klack, a Kilonian, a Holdian and three human males, without any specific features that would identify their place of origin.

I overheard the Saran woman saying. “How does Tox like school so far?”

“He can’t wait to go back, but I am not sure if Crawler driver is a careerI envisioned for my offspring. It’s all he wants to be.”

“He is still young and once he graduates I am sure Nul has joined, besides there is Citizen service and he might pick something for the long run. Most Union citizens do. Besides he might be a very good Crawler driver. He seems to enjoy it.”

I leaned over. “I am sorry for listening in, I am Alex Cunningham of the Union Galactographic Magazine and I must openly express my curiosity seeing a Nul on Union Side.”
The Saran woman said to the Nul. “I know the magazine and I seem to have read his name before. A magazine is a form of informative entertainment.”

The Nul shifted the entire body so it could look at me directly. “I am a Union Citizen for two years,ever since the All Gray gave every Nul the permission to make such a decission.I am not the only one. My pod sharer has made the same decision. Our offspring had been to Quadro for medical treatment and now we are on our way back to Downstairs so he can continue Union School.”

“That is a wonderful bit of information I gladly add to my article about my visit to Tomb World.”

The Saran woman pointed to the distant mountains.”Well maybe your maazine will provide some entertainment the next time I make this trip. Eight hours in this rumble crawler can get mighty long.”

“Eight hours?”

“Yep, this contraption makes eighty klicks an hour and Downstairs is almost 700 klicks from the port. It takes a good day to the Temple Entrance, that is another community.”
The Nul said. “It is not all that bad. The crawler has a restaurant and there are rest cabins one can use. Union things are always well thought out that way. I just came from Quadro, and everything there is so orderly. And the idea of a place where the sick can be treated is as marvelous as it is alien.”

“The Nul do not treat the sick?”

“No, there are places that a warrior can visit if there is a minor injury obtained in a fight, but diseases or wounds obtained other wise, either heal or mercy killing is perfomed, It is only the since the last three Leaders that the idea of medicine is considered, but a few generations even considering the concept of medicine is a far cry of the advances Union Medicine knows. My offspring suffered from Sticky Eye,it is a quite common disease among the Nul and can lead to blindness and mercy killing. There are hundreds of home remedies but none is a real cure. Some work sometimes, but the Union Clinic had the source identified and cured the disease in just two days.”

Stories like this always touched that inner spot I think all Union Citizens had, and made me smile.

The landscape outside had not changed much, the space port was still visible far in the back and the mountains were still distant, but the path before us was now slighty inclining, and the local sun was about to slip behind the horizon.

I passed trough the harmonica like connection in the second compartment of the large vehicle where the small restauant was. It featured a servematic with a nice selection of foods and drinks and several tables.

Outside a similar vehicle rumbled the other way. It already had its glaring bright head lights switched on and covered us in a dense dust cloud that obscured visibility for long moments.

After a dinner of a printed burger and fries, I called my wife and paid the extra 50 credits for the use of a rest chamber.

The soft rocking swaying motion of the vehicle had me sleeping in no time.


It was late at night as the vehicle arrived at Downstairs.

The settlement consisted of pre fab housing containers and re purporsed ruins of an ancient primitive civilization.

The Rumble Crawler terminal consisted of a row of stacked prefab modular containers.

The passengers that arrived with me dispersed while a small crowd of new passengers boarded the vehicle. I had learned that the Crawler Service was operated by Hellmans Inc. A local company that

also owned a few hotels and tourist service businesses.

A man in the gray cmpany uniform had noticed me still standing on the platform and said.”You look lost Sir, may I be of assistance?”

“Well not totally lost, but I could certainly use some local guidance to find my way to the Peak Hotel.”

“Mister, that hotel is all the way on top of the Stairs at the peak of White Mountain and that is another 12 kilometers of stairs going straight up. The regular stair bus to Upstairs won’t leave unitl Fourth Hour, tomorrow. “

“Stairs? There are actual stairs?I thought Downstairs was just a funny name for a settlement close to a mountain.”

“Yes there are actual stairs.”

He rubbed his chin. “All the guest rooms at Downstairs are most likley taken, and I don’t recommend the Pilgrim bunkhouse to anyone. Why don’t you come with me?My wife and I are occationally taking in guests, sort of a Bed and breakfast. Burt can take you up the mountain first thing in the morning.”

“If you dont mind. I am prepared to sleep outside if neccesary,but your taking advantage of your hospitality would be preferrable.

Sleeping outside on Tomb World is not exactly recommended, just likeit is a good idea to wait till daylight to up the stairs. Even though Burt could problably take you right now.”

I shouldered my bag. “Dangerous life forms?”

“Dangerous yes, not sure about the lifeform thing.” He pointed into the night.”This is a big grave yard, a planet sized tomb and those who live here are convinced there are things going on at night that isn’t done by anything alive, at least not in the corpporal way.”

I was not sure if I should laugh and dismiss it,he had a stern face while he said it.

“Are you talking about ghosts?”

“I am taking about aparitions, about foggy things that move against the wind on a world that is too dry to have fog. I am running this crawler station now for almost fourteen years, and when the last crawler has left, in the wee hours I have seen things that isn’t in any Union science book.”

I still wanted to dismiss the notion of ghosts, but out here in the cold desert wind, and the light of the crawler platfrom extening only a few meters,I could not help to get an eerie feeling down my spine.

“And whatever you say exists out there has attacked or caused harm to anyone?”
People have vanished over the years, only to be found dead, but without any apparent reason,but with pure fright frozen on their faces.”

He gestured to a metal door.”I am closing the place,it be just a minute. You can go to the other side of the platform, the one facing town and wait for me.”

He vanished behind the door.

“Ghosts, no such thing existed.That was superstion of primitive societies that had no explanations for natural phenomenon. Many of the Pre Astro ghost stories could easily be explained with psionics. Things the Saresii, the Ledeii and certainly the Narth could accomplish with psionics were more or less explainable but little understood magic to a non gifted person.

But there all on my own on that deserted platform, I really had to put an effort into my own thoughts to convince me. My imagination went so far that I even believed I had seen a greenish shimmer in the form of a being. It was not there when I conciously stared into the night, but I went to the other side just short of running.

From here I could see the settlement Perhaps two or three hundred structures clustered against the steep incline of the mountain base.

The buildings were an odd mix of stacked module containers and structures and ruins of stacked rocks and rough hewn boulders.

The gaps between the buildings appeared to be unpaved, smoothened ground. What seemed the core street actually featured an open modular two way slide belt on stilts.

The street and paths were lit by light elements attached to poles or the side of walls. Several colorful signs advertised bars , a hotel, stores and restaurants.

The crawler cat station employee appeared from a door and keyed in a lock code. “Well that’s that for tonight, Next Crawler isn’t due till Fifth Hour. My name is Oswald Dillon by the way.”

“Alex Cunningham.”

“What you see before you is Downstairs. About five thousand souls, but we are slowly growing.”

“They told me that permanent construction was prohibited, but I see stone structures.”

“They prohibited construction because the Belac were afraid construction could be used to mask an aerchological dig. Using existing ruins however, and refurbishing them was permitted. No one, not even the Belmac know who exactly build these houses and buildings that are nothing more than fancy stacked piles of rock and clay bricks, but everyone suspects this was some sort of base camp for the workers or whoever carved the steps and perhaps built the tombs and the Necropolis.”

While he talked he walked along am unpaved path and I was following him.

He continued. “I doubt the no-construction rule will apply for very much longer, the Nul are alowed to built, and I am certain they going to be Union memers soon.”

“Maybe that was the reason , the Belmac I met was not to fond of the Union.”

“You most likley ran ino Grump. Now this is not his real name,but then no one knows how he is really called. Not all the Belmac are like him, their lead priest is and many of them are much friendlier and have nothing against the Union.”

Oswald stopped at a rough wall of stacked rocks with a modern dura plast door and a Lumi Plate. The doors slid to the side and we entered the hall of a modern furnished typical Union home.

A woman in a long dress, came down a half spiral ramp from an upper floor.

She welcomed me and showed me to a guest room and told me that there would be a late night snack if I wanted one.

I took a short shower and made a few notes for my article and went over the raw footage of my Occular Implant camera. I nearly froze as I noticed the greenish vapor thing. Almost invisible, insubstantial but clearly it outlined a bein with a head and two arms.

I had fotographic evidence of the existence of a ghost! Maybe the Belmac did indeed speak to the Dead, and this world was way more than just a grave site. Maybe I was on the verge of my greatest story. Ghost stories had been with man ever since the he started to walk upright, and many other civilizations had stories and legends of this nature.

The headline “Alex Cunningham, Interview with a Ghost already formed before my inner eye. However if Oswald was correct, these spooks weren’t harmless at all.

For twenty Credits I had hired a local guide, a olive skinned human with the name of Oswald Harrison. He explained that no one knew who created this primitive buildings made of rocks and clay bricks. While construction of new permanent buildings was prohibited, there was no objection in using the old ruins and remodel them so they could be used .

From the outside the buidings looked like the remnants of a TL C society, crumbling stone structures, but the insides were smooth plasti walls, modern amenities and interior decoration.

The Rumble Crawler terminal consisted of a row of stacked prefab modular containers.

The passengers that arrived with me dispersed while a small crowd of new passengers boarded the vehicle. I had learned that the Crawler Service was operated by Hellmans Inc. A local company that

also owned a few hotels and tourist service businesses.

A man in the gray cmpany uniform had noticed me still standing on the platform and said.”You look lost Sir, may I be of assistance?”

“Well not totally lost, but I could certainly use some local guidance to find my way to the Peak Hotel.”

“Mister, that hotel is all the way on top of the Stairs at the peak of White Mountain and that is another 12 kilometers of stairs going straight up. The regular stair bus to Upstairs won’t leave unitl Fourth Hour, tomorrow. “

“Stairs? There are actual stairs?I thought Downstairs was just a funny name for a settlement close to a mountain.”

“Yes there are actual stairs.”

He rubbed his chin. “All the guest rooms at Downstairs are most likley taken, and I don’t recommend the Pilgrim bunkhouse to anyone. Why don’t you come with me?My wife and I are occationally taking in guests, sort of a Bed and breakfast. Burt can take you up the mountain first thing in the morning.”

“If you dont mind. I am prepared to sleep outside if neccesary,but your taking advantage of your hospitality would be preferrable.

Sleeping outside on Tomb World is not exactly recommended, just likeit is a good idea to wait till daylight to up the stairs. Even though Burt could problably take you right now.”

I shouldered my bag. “Dangerous life forms?”

“Dangerous yes, not sure about the lifeform thing.” He pointed into the night.”This is a big grave yard, a planet sized tomb and those who live here are convinced there are things going on at night that isn’t done by anything alive, at least not in the corpporal way.”

I was not sure if I should laugh and dismiss it,he had a stern face while he said it.

“Are you talking about ghosts?”

“I am taking about aparitions, about foggy things that move against the wind on a world that is too dry to have fog. I am running this crawler station now for almost fourteen years, and when the last crawler has left, in the wee hours I have seen things that isn’t in any Union science book.”

I still wanted to dismiss the notion of ghosts, but out here in the cold desert wind, and the light of the crawler platfrom extening only a few meters,I could not help to get an eerie feeling down my spine.

“And whatever you say exists out there has attacked or caused harm to anyone?”
People have vanished over the years, only to be found dead, but without any apparent reason,but with pure fright frozen on their faces.”

He gestured to a metal door.”I am closing the place,it be just a minute. You can go to the other side of the platform, the one facing town and wait for me.”

He vanished behind the door.

“Ghosts, no such thing existed.That was superstion of primitive societies that had no explanations for natural phenomenon. Many of the Pre Astro ghost stories could easily be explained with psionics. Things the Saresii, the Ledeii and certainly the Narth could accomplish with psionics were more or less explainable but little understood magic to a non gifted person.

But there all on my own on that deserted platform, I really had to put an effort into my own thoughts to convince me. My imagination went so far that I even believed I had seen a greenish shimmer in the form of a being. It was not there when I conciously stared into the night, but I went to the other side just short of running.

From here I could see the settlement Perhaps two or three hundred structures clustered against the steep incline of the mountain base.

The buildings were an odd mix of stacked module containers and structures and ruins of stacked rocks and rough hewn boulders.

The gaps between the buildings appeared to be unpaved, smoothened ground. What seemed the core street actually featured an open modular two way slide belt on stilts.

The street and paths were lit by light elements attached to poles or the side of walls. Several colorful signs advertised bars , a hotel, stores and restaurants.

The crawler cat station employee appeared from a door and keyed in a lock code. “Well that’s that for tonight, Next Crawler isn’t due till Fifth Hour. My name is Oswald Dillon by the way.”

“Alex Cunningham.”

“What you see before you is Downstairs. About five thousand souls, but we are slowly growing.”

“They told me that permanent construction was prohibited, but I see stone structures.”

“They prohibited construction because the Belac were afraid construction could be used to mask an aerchological dig. Using existing ruins however, and refurbishing them was permitted. No one, not even the Belmac know who exactly build these houses and buildings that are nothing more than fancy stacked piles of rock and clay bricks, but everyone suspects this was some sort of base camp for the workers or whoever carved the steps and perhaps built the tombs and the Necropolis.”

While he talked he walked along am unpaved path and I was following him.

He continued. “I doubt the no-construction rule will apply for very much longer, the Nul are alowed to built, and I am certain they going to be Union memers soon.”

“Maybe that was the reason , the Belmac I met was not to fond of the Union.”

“You most likley ran ino Grump. Now this is not his real name,but then no one knows how he is really called. Not all the Belmac are like him, their lead priest is and many of them are much friendlier and have nothing against the Union.”

Oswald stopped at a rough wall of stacked rocks with a modern dura plast door and a Lumi Plate. The doors slid to the side and we entered the hall of a modern furnished typical Union home.

A woman in a long dress, came down a half spiral ramp from an upper floor.

She welcomed me and showed me to a guest room and told me that there would be a late night snack if I wanted one.

I took a short shower and made a few notes for my article and went over the raw footage of my Occular Implant camera. I nearly froze as I noticed the greenish vapor thing. Almost invisible, insubstantial but clearly it outlined a bein with a head and two arms.

I had fotographic evidence of the existence of a ghost! Maybe the Belmac did indeed speak to the Dead, and this world was way more than just a grave site. Maybe I was on the verge of my greatest story. Ghost stories had been with man ever since the he started to walk upright, and many other civilizations had stories and legends of this nature.

The headline “Alex Cunningham, Interview with a Ghost already formed before my inner eye. However if Oswald was correct, these spooks weren’t harmless at all.

The Dillions had actually laid out a table with traditional china,bowls and silver ware. The woman said. ”I hope you like pork roast potatoes and brussle sprouts. If not the Rock and Dust Hotel restaurant is open and they deliver too.”

“It smells delicious and I am rather fond of Terran food.”

I could not believe how much I ate. I had completely devoured a second plate, it was that good. “Ms Dillon, that dinner alone was worth the trip.”

“My wife is a talented cook and does it the traditional way from scratch and on a stove. We don’t even have a printer.” He said deeply smiling at his proud looking woman.

She poured coffee and said .”Cunningham, the name sounds somhow familiar. As if I heard it before.”

“I am with the Union Galactic Magazine. Maybe you have seen one of my features.”

“Of course. Now I remember where I know your name. We knew you weren’t a regular tourist. Oswald was convinced you were on some official Union business and not the science kind.”

He sipped at his coffee. “Well ever so often they come and now that the Nul seem to become friendlier every day and there is talk of the Nul actually joining the Union, there are all sorts of Union officials frequenting this world. I served my 2 month and another four years in the Army and while I was just a Corporal, I can usually spot them.”

“Oh Oswald wouldn’t it be nice if this planet would become an Union planet. I am sure once the Kathk are full members, tourist traffic will pick up, and with you writing something about Tomb World, many will want to come.”

“From what I gathered so far, this might not be all to far off, but what about those ghosts you talked about?”

She laughed. “Did he try to scare you too? It’s a local past time. Ghost stories that is. I live here as long as he does and I have never seen one. Before started to run the local Post Office and became a house wife, I too served the Union. Science Corps. Our Universe is more fascinating than any could imagine, we don’t need ghost stories.”

He crossed his arms before his chest. “I saw what I saw. Only six month ago they found Demr Fux a good fifty klicks from here. Simply dead.”

She waved her hand and places a piece of Apple pie before me. “He most likley was drunk and got lost, out there is nothing.No water,no food and nothing alive. The poor fool got baked in the sun and died of dehydration. The next real doctor is at the space port, all we have is a Terrix Seven Med Bot and all the machine did, declare the poor bastard for dead. “

I had to admit the medical oppinion of a 400 year old civilian Med assist bot was perhaps not the most accurate, but I had seen the green vapour.

For now I decided to keep my discovery quiet, maybe it was just some reflection and I would make a fool out of myself.


Oswald was in bed, resting for his next shift.But Ms.Dillon said she would show me where Burt’s Stair Express Corporation Inc was, on her way to the local post office.

“How can a business be a corporation and an Inc. at the same time?”

“Well Burt who runs one of the two Stair Bus companies loves the word Corporation, he thinks it makes his business important. Don’t worry he is reliable when he is sober and he usually is on a SecondDay, when new tourists have arrived.”

She took 50 credits for the bed and breakfast and I added a twenty credit tip.

The morning was crisp, the sky blue and the air dry and cold.

Downstairs was bigger than it appeared during the night and had an unique character. The blend of crumbling ruins and distinctive modern Union tech, somehow underlined just how far I was from the core.

Bigger did not mean big however, and I would have found Burts Stair Express even without directions.

The little town was just waking up,so to speak. There were tourists and locals and clearly distinquishble. I saw a Purple Throat Shiss stacking boxes of produce in front of a grocery store. A Klack and a Belanorm were clearly tourists, as the Belanorm engaged in the ageold practice of taking pictures or a video while the Klack posed before a crumbling rock wall.

A wide shouldered Sauron and two humans accompanied by two robots, were installing a metal pathway between buildings,while an old man was watching them. Another robot collected litter.

Out of the open door of a business wafted the wonderful smell of fresh baked bread, and a sign proclaimed that this bakery did real baking. Judging by the busy crowd, it was quite popular.

A quite frightfully looking Demonhead was greeted friendly and I overheard he was one of the local Union School teachers.

I had to correct my earlier thoughts, this didn’t feel far from the Union Core at all.

Burt’s Stair Express turned out to be two container modules stacked and a strange tracked vehicle in front of it.The contraption consisted of tracked frame and a passenger compartment on a articulated arm. A small crowd of tourists and passengers were already assembled. I also noticed a Belmarc approaching.

A Terran human in a blue coverall greeted me.” Going up?”

“Yes I like to get to the Peak Hotel.”

“That be twelve credits and we are leaving in about ten minutes.”

I paid the fair and climbed the access ramp joining the other passengers.

It took a good deal more than ten minutes, but I was in no particular hurry.

I counted eleven passenger, nine were of the genus Homo Galactus or in other words human from one of humanoid Union member societies. Eight were tourists and it was easy to overhear that they had come as a part of a travel group all the way from Stafford Planet.

One was a Belanorm, there was a green skinned Brainer with an elongated head and the last was also human, looking like a local.

A woman looking to be in her early two hundreds leaned over. “What an exciting place to visit, isn’t it?”

“Yes it appears to be. You sure picked a distant place for your trip.”

“Ah that’s nothing. We have been to Distant Shores, all the way across the Andromeda galaxy. You see ever Sigismund and I retired twentyfive years ago, we are traveling all across the Union. Now this place is technically no longer Union,but they say there is a chance we will see a ghost.Not that I really think we do, but I am sure a real Necropolis will still be delightfully spooky.”

A man in with sturdy All terrains, a pair of durafab pants held up with actual suspenders. The last time I had seen suspenders was on Earth.

He wore a broad belt , with some kind of hammer tool and a blaster attached. “Hello everyone, I am Peter Rodan, are you the travel group from Stafford Planet?”

The eight humans, the Brainer and the Belanorm identified themselves as that group.

“Splendid I was hired by your travel agency and I am your Tomb Guide.”

The vehicle started to move and rolled up a steep inclining path. The passenger cabin was kept level.

At the end of the path were wide stairs carved into the rock of the mountain leading up in a steep incline.

“These are the White Mountain Stairs. “ The tomb guide said. “There are many stairs like this on this world, two of them are on the Kermac side and another one is by the Belmac temple almost 1500 klicks from here, but this flight of stairs is the longest discovered so far and have a length of over 12 kilometers. There are seventeen serpentines and long steep stretches all the way up to 3,601 meters above the desert level to the First Table. Then they go on for another 2,022 meters to the peak of White Mountain and the second table where the Gaze stone is.

Each step rises between seventeen and nineteen centimeters height has 18 to 21 centimeters tread and all are more or less 300 centimeters wide. There are 83,959 steps altogether. This year the first Stair climbing marathon will be held and extreme athletes in nine being cathegories will attempt to climb these stairs on foot or similar appendixes. Our own local champion is a Quadiped and he is training for the last two years. All locals believe Brownwall will win, but then last month two Kilonians and a Xinpin arrived and they have a lot of legs. Well in any case we hope it becomes an annual event.”

“And defile the sanctuary and peace of the Dead with all this horrible Union nonsense!”

From behind the Belmac priest grunted in a loud disaproving tone. He must have boarded after I took stock of the other travellers.

The guide said with a smile .” Mahking, the High Priest welcomed the idea and said The Dead have given their approval.”

The Belmac actually spat on the floor.”Mahking and the Seven are becoming more Union every day.” With this the priest opened the rear door and got outside on the small platform with a chest high hand rail.

Peter the Tomb guide shrugged and said. “Never mind him,the other Belmac are very friendly and the High priest and his seven associates have given their expressed blessing.Besides the treaty clearly allows tourism.”

The husband of the old lady next to me said.”And as formidable the Belmac might be, they do not want to tango with the fleet. Just so you know a certain Eternal Warrior was there when the Tomb World treaty was signed and he was not to happy and warned the Belmac, that one complaint would be enough for him to come back and deliver his displeasure to the Belmac home world.”

The Belanorm opened his wide maw and laughed.”Yes we all visited the place yesterday where they signed the Tomb World treaty. Our Stahl never was any good at diplomacy, but you can bet your life he means exactly what he says.”

While the Stair Bus was climbing the stairs,and one would expect the passengers taking about the landscape and the sights, they engaged in what was quite likely the most favorite pasttime of all Union citizens. Admiral Stahl was mentioned and everyone had something to say.

I had travelled the Union far and wide and no matter where,in the restaurant of a Line ship,on the lawn of the Ring park around the Assembly or inside a Stair Bus, someone mentiones Stahl and eyes light up, fists get raised and at least one quote or anectode is told to the open delight of everyone.

I almost understood the sentiment of the priest.

Finally the subject returned to the planet and the sights. The guide resumed his monologue. “No one knows for sure who built these stairs, but we call them the grave diggers. As we are sure it was them who built the Necropolis and the many passages,acloves and mausoleums,that honey comb this mountain and some believe the caves and tunnels are connected with each other all across the planet.

So far 12,454kilometers of tunnels and passages have been mapped, and there are more.

The Science Corps has officially arrived only two years ago. The Belmac did not allow any real research.Only six month ago they agreed to mapping. The Science Corps will start a new expediton in a few days to explore a tunnel, not even the Belmac knew existed.”

The man grinned wide. “My own son, just six years old has found the entrance. Aslan and his friends are true Tunnel rats and know these tunnels like few others.”

“You let a six year old, explore these tombs on his own?” The old lady asked with a surprised tone.”

“Yes Ma’am. He accompanies me a lot after school. Of course they are not allowed to go into the unexplored sections, but being small they managed to squeeze through holes, adults could never. I feel it is better to trust a child and give it all the tools and knowledge to do the things safe and in the right way, than to prohibit it. Knowing the kids will do it anyway.”

The Stair Bus climbed an exceptional steep section and the Tomb guide said.”This section is called the Dizzy Spell. It takes your last breath if you have to climb it on foot and makes you dizzy with fear when you have to go down. One false step and you tumble a good kilometer or if unlucky, all the way,broken neck guaranteed. The red painted step that coming up now,is called Eroll’s last step. Eroll Waincroft was one of the first colonists and the first who climbed these steps. At his third trip,he stumbled and they found his body in the Three Boulder Ravine 1400 meters below.”

The Guide lowered his voice looked around and then said with an ominous tone. “Tom Chukker who was a few hundred meters behind Eroll claimed,it was a spooky aparition who scared Eroll and made him stumble.”

“Have you seen a ghost, Mr.Aslan.” One of the other tourists wanted to know.”

“I can’t say for sure,but I have heard strange sounds far below in the Red Passage. You all will hear the screams of the wind in the Howling Chasms, later today. They are very spooky and sometimes you can hear the howls when there is no wind at all. Some even claim they can decypher words.”

I was pretty sure, he told this for effect and to provide the tourists some chilling entertainment. The same lines were told by simiar guides on planets all over the Union.

Just a year ago, I had been on Wichita planet with the famous Big Bone mystery.

The Science department was suddenly very tight lipped and only issued that a statement that the Big Bone Mystery was about to be solved. The local tour guide showing me the valley talked about eerie sounds that could someimes be heard. But all that was there was a Science Corps research station right against a mountain, without granting access. I still wondered why a science corps station was guarded by Marines. I made a mental note to have the editors office ask the Science Corps for more information.

I also had visited a haunted castle on Earth and a Temple on Petra where supernatural things supposedly happened and never really did. But no matter how much I told myself that it was only done for show and entertainment,Icould not dismiss the greenish vapor I had seen.

The Space Bus was slowing down and Mr.Aslan said . We are approaching the First table now. All members of the Travel group have booked rooms at the Maw of Death hotel. After you had a chance to refresh your self and have a lunch at the restaurant, we will then descent into the Howling Chasm.”

The Bus will continue to the Mountain peak and the second table.

The next connection going down is at 4th hour.”

The First Table was rock ledge about 50 meters wide and maybe 150 meters long. At one side were the stairs and on the other side a gaping cave entrance. Large modular containers,painted red stacked one high nested against the rock wall at the mountain side. The edge of the tableau like ledge dropped of at an almost vertical angle. From my elevated seat in the Stair Bus I could see all the way to the bottom at least 2000 meters below, and even though I was not particular afraid of heights, it knotted my stomach with an tight grip. So much that I switched to a now empty seat on the other side of the bus.Only to notice that the edge of the tracks lined up with the edge of the stairs and there was no room to spare before a sheer drop of similar proportions The Stairs were carved into very ridge peak of a high but narrow geological fold of rock.

One false move on the controls would certainly result in the this seemingly top heavy machine,taking a tumble to the desert far below.

I also realized I had to take the StairBus back down.

I was now the only passenger, the Belmac priest had left the bus as well and was on his way to the cave entrance that was called the Maw of Death and so I had learned was one of the known entrances to the Necropolis and the tombs and graves that gave this world its name.

The machine retracted its boarding ladder and moved on.

In the line of my travels I had been on the most unusual rides,but I had to admit this manual driven machine was not robotic,no computronic appeared to assist the driver, affected my nerves .

Like so many citizen from the Sol system, I called on Mickey and Donald. These deities were,so it turned out not gods at all, but some sort of Pre Astro literary figures. The extensive temple area that was excavated in Southern California was not a temple according to McElligott and Stahl, but a theme park that got destroyed and burried in an Earth quake cathastrophe a good three thousand years ago. Still many Solaners (citizens of the Sol system) called,just as I did upon Mickey. I was never a religious man and did not follow any of the many religions,but right now I wondered if I should revise my oppinion. In an Universe where Narth existed there was the posibility of something or someone with perhaps Omnipotence able to make sure the driver did not fall asleep or something like that.

But as the bus reached the Second Table. I scolded myself just how stupid my own train of thougts were. The talk about The Dead and ghosts must have affected me more than I thought.

The second table was a flat area just below the mountain peak. There was a stack of these modular containers fourwide and 20 containers high.

I had seen the SII Needle on Pluribus that reached past the stratosphere, and my own office on Mercury was over 2000 meters of the ground. Yet this modular building of maybe 80 meters seemed very tall to me.

The Stair Bus behind me swiveled the cabin around and started on its descend.

The air up here was noticeable thinner, and the entrance to the hotel had a force field curtain and was so I noticed pressurized inside. The lobby was clean and two humans and a Klack sat at a bar, while a Human male of Asian descent behind the counter greeted me. “Welcome to the Peak Hotel Mr. Cunningham, we have been expcting you. The Pleasure Stay company which owns and operates this hotel, instructed me to make our finest suite available to you on compliments of the company. Please feel free to make extensive and free use of our hospitality.”

“That is very nice indeed, but my Magazine provides me with a generous expense account.”
“You are to modest, Mr. Cunningham.Even if you don’t mention our hotel. A feature of you about Tomb World will most certainly increase Union wide awarness and thus increase tourist numbers. I personally are a long time subscriber and love your travel reports.”

I was not a vane person, but I could not completely ignore a feeling of professional pride.”Thank you then indeed.”

The suite was modestlyluxurious ,but the large panorama windows provided a spectacular vista. It was all the way on the top, and even higher than the actual mountain peak. The view was so crisp and clear, I would see the Space Port all the way at the far distant horizon.

Here inside a building, the height did not bother me.

I decided to call the floating pancake, Dr. Sploth and arrange for an interview and the Union Science Corps take on Tomb World and Ghosts.

I only reached the Ebony Elfin who told me both scientists weren’t present, and Dr.Sploth was offline and could not be reached. She promissed Dr. Sploth would call as soon as was back online.

I ordered a light lunch from room service and decided to spend some time on GalNet to see what there was about ghosts and Undead and spirits.

Just as I expected,most of the serious science sources dismissed the entire subject as legends and stories and explained these phenomenon as psychological rooted, due to the inability of most beings to explain an unusual or out of the normal event ; and of course of the unspoken fear of the mystery of death, but then my GalNet pal Rupert, a simulated virtual person who was actually a clever little search logarythm service from Goggol Galactic,said. “Alex,I came across a sub department of the Science Council called Group Olympus. They are not secret, but are aslo notin th main stream of meta search nodes.I only found it in the conference notes of the Transbiologica Conference of 5001 on Phantas.”

“What is it?”

“It reads: During the Transbiologica-5001 Conference on Phantas; Biologists, Bio Chemists and Sociologists of the United Stars Science Council concluded, that there are beings or life forms that can not be classified in any classical sense of science so far understood. It was also declared that Entities firmly exist in the fabric and physical make up of the Mega-verse. It was furthermore concluded that the laws allowing and explaining them are simply not discovered or understood and therefore insufficient science base exists to explain or define their existence in a satisfactory sense.

The Conference also firmly rejected to accept such terms as Magic, Ghosts, Spirits, Gods or Demons but found consensus that these terms could stand as synonyms and place holder concepts until factual science is able to explain, define and confirm it. In conclusion the Science Council decided to create a Meta-Physics Work Group codenamed OLYMPUS in order to catalog and research Entities and their role, impact and influence.”

I sat upright and said. “5001? It is 5029 now, is there any more on this work group?”

“Not much more, Alex.The group is headquatered at Pluribus and occupies two floors in the Ivory Tower. However the Assembly has increased its budget in 5020 from one million credits a year to 20 Million in 5021 and currently a budget of 45 million has been approved.”

I had Rupert gather the information into a master file.

In terms of Union Budget 45 million was nothing, but on its own it was not spare change. I also noticed that a Narth was listed as the research director. The sudden rise in budget and the involvement of a Narth indicated to me that this work group had found something that caught the attention of the science council.

It also appeared they tried to keep it out of public awarness. I had Rupert make a connection and moments later , a stunning woman with flaming red hair and green eyes appeared. “Good afternoon Citizen,I am Rebecca Asfargh, what can I do for you?”

“I am Alex Cunningham. I call to find out what the Workgroup Olympus is.”

“I am transfering our public information brochure to you. I recommend you also watch the attached multi media presentation.”

“Thank you, but I am with the Union Galactic Magazine, and I rather be interested in the truth and why you are hiding from the public. No one has ever heard of your Work group.”

“Mr.Cunningham, I know who you are and your magazine and the work you do is rather nice in a n old fashioned somewhat simplistic style. I openly resent your thinly veiled accusations. There are 756 work groups in this building engaged in scientific and scholastic research. All Workgroups are open and our research is or will be public accessible, once the experts deem the material or research complete. “

“I am a Union citizen too, and I have the right to to know what you researching and see and read your material.”

“It happens to be that I am a Union Citizen too,and so by your argument do I have the right to demand to read and see what you have gathered and written so far?”

“I haven’t even started and don’t publish before my editor has seen it and edited it.”

“There you have your answer, we don’t publish our results until we had a chance to complete it. I have send you a lot of information and I suggest you digest it before you evaluate it to be not truthful. Have a nice day , Mr.Cunningham.”

The connection terminated

TBC


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