Golden Crescent

By Geraldle

Copyright © 2006

ONE-July 26, 3311

10:00 AM

The vehicles going by had no wheels and needed no pavement; therefore the roadway was simply a strip of grass fifteen feet wide.

The grass was a Terran strain, but something in the soil made it appear to be orange rather than green. Anyone from Terra in the mid to late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st would have recognized the building on the edge of the small town as a hamburger joint.

Dominion Burgs and Dogs was its name and its wares' appearance had changed little in over a thousand years. But they wouldn't have recognized the taste; though the meat was called beef, the name was the closest it had ever come to Terran beef cattle.

Terran cattle did well on some worlds but not on Persis and while Terran beef was available in the cities, it was very expensive in this rural area. The parking lot also was of orange grass and there were several picnic tables available for those who would rather eat in the outdoors than in the comfort of their vehicles.

According to the sign on the door the place was open from 11:00 AM to 1:00 AM. At about ten AM a rental vehicle pulled into the parking lot. It stopped and the vehicle settled onto its landing shocks as the low whine of the engine stopped and two people got out.

One was a male of indeterminate age with black hair and eyes and a beard. He appeared to be in his middle twenties, but, in an age with LongLife available to all, he could have been anywhere up to 300 years old. The other appeared to be a young boy of about nine with blond hair and green eyes, dressed in a pair of skyblue shorts and white T shirt with blue trim and sandals.

The man, Gerrit Ericsson motioned to one of the picnic tables, telling the boy, “Travis, you sit down over there and don't do anything until I come back.”

The boy obediently walked over to the table and sat down, his hands beside him holding the bench, bare legs dangling down then he went completely still, only his green eyes moving, though he didn't blink. Gerrit hadn't meant for the boy to be completely still, he only meant for him not to wander away. But the AI that was presently in control of Travis’s body took its instructions literally.

Gerrit got back into the ground car and pulled back onto the road. Travis’ internal AI's tracking system showed that the vehicle stopped approximately ten miles away, Travis wondered what was going on. Gerrit had seemed afraid for the last several days. He wished the man had remembered to turn the AI controller off before he left. He was stuck in this position until Gerrit returned. Or, in an even more disquieting thought, even if he doesn't, although the appropriate authority figure could turn off the AI.

TWO-July 26, 3311

12:00 PM

“Now, Jeff I don't mind kids sitting on the picnic tables, but this kid hasn't moved.” Emile Ultram said.

Jeff said, somewhat sarcastically, “I've never seen a kid of that age who could keep still for half a minute. Don't tell me this kid's any different.

“No. Well the Vid Secure Cam first picked him at a little after ten AM. He and the man with him got out of an ag-car and the boy went over to the table and sat down. The man got back into the car and left but the boy stayed. Have a look,” he pointed under the counter to the little Vid monitor. Pressing down a button, he ordered the monitor to, “Show movement of subject from time the man left until now. Then show number of pictures taken.”

It showed the little boy just sitting there and then the number of pictures taken. Jeff whistled when it said, '1 FRAME USED'.

Jeff said, “Only an android or robot can keep that still as far as I know. We've never had either with the sophistication that this one must have, not on Persis.”

Suddenly there was one of the quick cloudbursts that this area of Persis was famous for. Jeff put his hat on and hit the weather button on his shield. He exited the building and walked toward what he assumed was an android, but he began to wonder a bit, as he got closer, because it was shivering in the cold rain. He had never heard of an android that could shiver.

But for the moment he was going to let it or him shiver. He wasn't going to get close enough that it could overpower his defensive AI before it could short-circuit it if necessary.

Staying about six feet away he asked, “Are you an android?”

“N-no!” said the boy.

Jeff's eyebrows went up. “What are you then?”

“Cy-cyborg!” said the boy.

“In either case you shouldn't be shivering like that.” Jeff observed.

The boy said, “AI has override control. It's far more literal than I am and I was told not to do anything, so it won't allow me to move or to adjust my mode to avoid the weather.”

“How do you do that?” asked Jeff.

The boy told him, “Either Gerrit or a figure in authority tells the AI to release override controls.”

“Am I an appropriate authority figure?” Jeff asked.

“Yes, but you must use my name, telling the AI to allow Travis, me, to take back control.” the boy said.

Jeff ordered, “AI turn override control over to Travis,”

Suddenly the boy brought his hands up in front of him and began to rub them, at the same time a weather shield went up around him. Jeff could actually see the drops stop six inches away from his body. He drew out his scanner. He did a quick scan, but before he had a chance to read it Travis shook his head, saying, “That won't work. You'll have to do a deep scan and tell the scanner to ignore cybernetic organisms.”

Jeff made the appropriate adjustments and looking at the scanner, it clearly indicated the brain was human, but nothing else was. He asked with surprise in his voice, “Just your brain survived? I've never heard of a transfer as complete as that before.”

Travis shrugged, saying, “As far as I know that's it. Only my brain was salvaged. I've read portions of my file. The beginning is deliberately very vague. It only gives my name and age. I assume I was in an accident of some kind. Some of the early experimenters in freezing people only froze either the head or the brain. There's no indication of how I came into the possession of Artificial People Inc. The owners were and are named Ericsson and that is my last name, however I don’t know if I was related to them or not.” He shivered and rubbed his arms.

Jeff asked, “You shouldn't be cold should you? I know you acted that way but I assumed it was simulated.”

Travis gave a grin and said, “This body is a prototype, not the first time I've been used in this way.” He waved away the protest that Jeff started to make. “Don't worry; it was never done without my permission. It's hard to resist the chance to become closer to what I once was. AP Inc and the Curcel developed this and it's far more lifelike than anything ever produced before. So far every sensation I once had I have again. I could go into All Weather Mode and I'd stop shivering immediately, but believe it or not, even this sensation is welcome. While previous bodies have had sensations, they always felt fake, no matter how well they were done. Mainly with the aid of the Curcel this body is the closest thing ever made to human.”

“All right, you're human. Just what are you doing here?” Jeff asked.

Travis shook his head again, admitting, “I don't know. However there seems to be a problem. The AI has a tracking device on Gerrit's car. He left me here just after ten AM, drove about ten miles from here and stopped and the car hasn't moved since then. The tracking device also tells me that there are no living organisms of human size within a quarter of a mile of the car.”

He sighed with annoyance as he continued, “Unfortunately the tracking device is not very sophisticated. It was only meant to keep me in contact with Gerrit and he assumed that wherever the car would be, he would be. If he moved away from the car, or even if he got killed, all it would do is to tell me what I already told you.”

“Can the AI take over your body again?” Jeff asked, not sure if he wanted a cyborg who might suddenly be in the control of a computer, in his car.

Travis said, “No. Once the override was transferred to me, it can't be reinstated by anyone except Gerrit. It was only installed because we had to pass through Altieren space and it's not really very sophisticated. If they had stopped our ship, which was quite possible, then Gerrit thought I had to appear to be an android. They don't mind androids but Gerrit thought they would have destroyed me if they found out I was a cyborg. They hate cyborgs so much because of the last war we had with them. I don't have a specific combat mode, but in fact I'm about as effective as the cyborgs in that war were.”

He saw the man shiver at that and he didn't blame him. He said, very careful to keep all emotions out of his voice. “If you feel I'm a danger you can shut me down. As a law enforcement officer you have that authority.” He closed his eyes, unintentionally showing his fear.

Jeff caught the fear. “What exactly would that do?” he asked.

Travis opened his eyes wide as he explained, “A law was passed that affects the core worlds of the Federation. All cyborgs must now have a command implant that can shut down the cybernetic parts of their bodies. Since only my brain exists, for me it must be a permanent shutdown. The computer part of me would shut off, but first a poison would be injected into my brain, to kill the part of me that's still alive. There's no other way of shutting me down.”

He shivered, then said, “If just the cybernetic part of me was shut down, that would trap my brain in this body. With no way to receive any input I'd be in sensory deprivation and it's very likely that after a short period of time I would go insane. Those who designed the implant for my body considered death kinder. The government turned down an application for a partial shutdown that would still allow me sensory input. They insisted that only a full shutdown would comply with the new law.”

Travis said reflectively, “It's ironic really, when you think about it. The number of cyborgs who have gone insane and gone on a rampage, number less than a hundred. Most of them were within the first decade after they created a large number of cyborgs for the Hosine War in the twenty-sixth century. On the other hand robots that have gone insane and caused as much or greater damage number in the many thousands per year. Yet they penalize us and not the manufacturers of robots, when we're much more stable.”

Jeff said, in shock, “Huh. I've never heard any statistics like that?”

Travis smiled, telling him, “That's because the type of robots that go insane don't exist on the fringe worlds. Your car,” and he waved his hand at it, “in the core worlds would have to have a robotic brain. People are told about accidents but not many people know that a faulty robotic brain causes a lot of vehicle accidents. The traffic patterns in the cities are so complex that nothing less than a full AI, such as would be fitted into a robot, are sophisticated enough to run the vehicles.”

Travis smiled with pride and said, “Artificial People Inc produces androids and robots. Not many people know that 70% of their business is providing AI's for vehicles of all types. Their safety record is very good, however they are only one of many companies that produce AI's and some of the companies' products are truly atrocious.”

Travis shook his head in wonder at the folly of humans, before saying, “Whenever anyone tries to set the record straight, then the people with a vested interest just point at cyborgs and the rampages they've gone on. It doesn't matter that the last recorded rampage occurred over a hundred years ago. Emotions get white hot against us. We're Frankenstein's monster come to life and people don't see us logically, but emotionally.”

Travis continued thoughtfully, “On dangerous out-worlds we're usually very welcome, but on a world such as Persis, I'm not much more welcome than I would be in the core worlds.”

The man said, “Well, my name is Jeff Niven and I'm the sheriff of this county. We should go have a look for your...Hmm. What is he anyway, since you're not an android or a robot, he's not your owner.”

“He's my guardian.” Travis said, making a face, as he got up and they headed for the car. As they got in and did up the straps he continued, “I'm considered a minor child. About eight hundred years ago, before the Federation Test of Maturity was developed, AP Inc went to court to try and get me declared an adult. Not only did they fail but when the Test of Maturity was developed, even though I took it and was judged 21/10, mature in circumstances where I needed it, the Court's decision superseded the Test. They had to establish guardianship and the family has been my guardian ever since. Gerrit is the present and if he's dead, the last, since there are no other members of the Ericsson family left alive.”

With Travis giving directions they arrived at the place Gerrit had stopped in a few minutes. Pulling up behind the other car Jeff activated his scanners.

After several minutes he said with regret, “I detect two bodies, about a quarter of a mile from here, close to a second vehicle. I'll send a remote to make a closer examination.” Reaching into the back seat he opened a case, from which he took a small Frisbee shaped object about three inches in diameter. Flicking a switch he held it out of his window and let it go. It rose into the air until it was about ten feet high. Jeff entered a verbal command into the remote controller and the small device headed for the area where the two bodies were located.

It was giving the man a Vid feed. Once it was at the required position they could see that one of the men was on his back, the other lying face down. Travis showed no emotion as he viewed the body of Gerrit Ericsson. He said in a steady voice, “My guardians have always of course been individuals,” he smiled, “far more individualistic than most. With the majority of them their deaths caused me intense anguish. Gerrit hated androids and I reminded him too much of one. He admitted that intellectually he could accept the fact that I was a cyborg, but not emotionally. He was very careful to keep me at arms length. He never gave me the chance to love him or even like him, really. It probably sounds awful, but with his death I'm really more concerned with what's going to happen to me.” His watery eyes gave a lie to his explanation.

Jeff looked at the little boy. He asked, “Can you cry?”

Travis said, “Yes I can.” he choked out as his eyes, which were watery with unshed tears began to overflow. He closed his large green eyes and his voice was wobbly as he continued. “This body is too good. It used to be I could lie without batting an eye, but no longer. Despite how he felt about me, I couldn't help but love him. Not as deeply as most, but still his death will always cause me sadness when I think about it.”

Jeff reached over and gently stroked the boy's back as he began to cry harder and it felt natural. After a few minutes, his tears began to slow and finally stop. Travis said, “Thank you.” and his voice was firmer.

He reached into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a com. At first glance, it didn't look much different from a normal com but it was somewhat larger.

Travis said to Jeff, “Gerrit had a partner.” He punched in a code and then placed it on the dashboard. It projected a larger than normal holographic image and it was very clear. A small scout cruiser appeared and then was replaced by the face of a man.

Travis said, “Hello Orsy, long time no see.”

The man looked at Travis and his face was filled with sympathy. He said, “I’m sorry about Gerrit, little one. I simply didn’t know him long enough to miss him very much, though I respected him and I did like him. However, I’ve known you for almost two hundred years and I know you would have gotten close, despite the feelings Gerrit had for you.”

Travis’s voice was serene now, “Yes, I will grieve for him, but then I have many people to grieve for. It was hard at the beginning to make friends, they always saw the external me and to them I was only an android. They had to make a conscious effort to treat me like a person and because of that it was almost impossible to make lasting friendships.”

He said, “It changed somewhat after the Hosine War, when so many cyborgs were created and some of the alterations were almost as extensive as mine. Many people of that time and after were able to accept what I was and I’ve made a lot of friends since then, though it's always been a challenge.”

Travis give a sigh of regret, saying, “When you're almost immortal like I am, you need to learn how to make friends and learn how to grieve and let go when they die for whatever reason. It's harder with Gerrit because he was murdered.”

The man nodded and then looked at Jeff Niven reading the name tag just below his badge. Then there was a pause of about thirty seconds as he ran an identify trace and his eyes widened with surprise, at the results. He said cheerfully, “Apparently you’ve fallen into good hands, Travis. Sheriff Niven is a former member of Naval Intelligence, his missions are all classified as NEED TO KNOW ONLY and his security clearance is as high as yours and mine.”

Orsy said, “That means I can be completely candid. Well in the order of importance, the most important thing to you, Travis, is that you have an implant that is designed to shut you down which will test as active to any instrument. You cannot however be shut down. As a Federation Medal of Honor winner and the only non-Hanaan holder and in fact the only living holder of the Golden Crescent, the Hanaan would never forgive us if we gave anyone the ability to shut you down and in fact kill you.”

With a grave look on his face Orsy told Travis, “Second and this is of more importance to the mission. Gerrit was supposed to get in touch with a double agent. The man had information to sell him. Apparently he knew something about the disappearance of a dozen ships in this area over the last several years.”

“It was thought that he might need some heavy firepower, which is why I was partnered with him. Apparently, we should have included some ground based backup as well. I have recordings of the whole thing, up to the point where the shuttle the killer was on made contact with a ship.”

Orsy shook his head with an annoyed look on his face. He said, “Unfortunately the ship is from the Albrect Confederacy and has Diplomatic Immunity. Normally in a case like this where I actually viewed a murder that could be considered a possible act of war, I could bypass that fact. However, when I targeted the ship, my ship refused to acquire a weapon’s lock on them. Apparently, my AI has been programmed with an imperative which won’t allow me to interfere with them. When I get back to Terra I intend to launch an investigation into why and I figure we’ll find some people with their hands in the cookie jar, but until then I’m unable to do anything.”

Jeff Niven said, “Damn!!!” bitterly. Persis’ Council would never dare to violate Diplomatic Immunity either.

Orsy looked at him and smiled sympathetically, saying, “There is an alternative, but you need to know something about Travis before I tell you what it is. Beginning Vid.”

And he disappeared and a ship that looked almost identical to his scout cruiser appeared on the screen and at the top, it showed a date, which was just over four hundred years ago.

THREE-May 6, 2908

Travis Ericsson

I had been testing the human brain AI interface of the new long range scout class. Normally a scout ship of this class carried twelve beings. Since this ship was intended for cyborgs like me, it only needed a minimal life support system and no living quarters. Therefore it was far more powerful than anything of similar size. It was in fact comparable to a light cruiser and it had far more range.

You would think that being unable to move my body would be disturbing, however, the impulses that normally moved my cyborg body were now moving my ship body.

When the border troubles erupted with the Hanaan, I was co-opted to do a little spying deep in their territory. Two hours ago, I had come across thirteen ships gathered on the outskirts of an uninhabited solar system.

It had puzzled me for a while, wondering why they would be here. Finally, my sensors had given me a partial reason and I’d figured out the rest. Twelve of the ships were similar, but there were enough differences between them, to make each one individual. The AI had told me that fact and I realized that twelve of the ships were representing the twelve Hanaan Clans. The thirteenth ship, which was double the size of the others, must represent the central government, which, unlike the Federation Council, was a fairly weak body.

Now that I knew what they were, I was ready to leave. I was a spy, not an assassin, and, while they did have shields, they were unarmed. In a gesture of good faith, all thirteen ships would have females and younglings along with them. Even if we were actually at war, my job was intelligence, not search and destroys. I wouldn’t have attacked ships with noncombatants on board in any case, except under exceptional circumstances.

Suddenly my mind was filled with tension and almost not realizing what I was doing, I began heading straight toward the ships at maximum acceleration. I knew that my ship would be on their scanners now, since I couldn’t maintain stealth at that speed. They would be alarmed, but there was nothing that I could do about that. As I passed right through the ships, I almost absently armed weapons.

I wasn’t even surprised when two fighters came out of hyper almost right on top of me, with their weapons locked on the Hanaan ships. I triggered my anti-matter beams and they simply blew up, their shields no barrier to my weapons, not at this range.

Going into a loop, I headed back for the Hanaan ships; passing between them again and then began moving in a giant circle one hundred thousand miles in diameter, staying close to the fleet.

Fal-na Etal

The AI began sounding the alarm and it was blaring on the bridge and throughout the rest of the ship. My Tracking station had locked onto a ship that had suddenly appeared on my screen. As close as it was it must have been in stealth, but now it was heading towards us at maximum acceleration. The AI identified it as a Federation ship.

My heart was in my throat as I expected the ship to begin firing at us, but with astonishment I watched it pass right through the fleet. Suddenly two smaller ships came out of hyper with their weapons locked on us and then just as suddenly they were gone as the Federation ship opened fire.

It made a loop and headed back towards us and went through the fleet again and then into a circular pattern so it was never very far from us. The AI had recognized the other ships as Strangers and I knew they were only the first. The ship was Federation and the Strangers had never attacked them as far as I knew; yet, somehow he seemed to know that the second pair of fighters would come out much further from the fleet.

I heard footsteps behind me, then I felt a hand on my shoulder and my father asked, “Strangers, Fal?”

I answered absently, “Yes father. Plus there is another ship that has the clear signature of a Federation ship.” I noted that all of the other ships in the fleet had their shields up. I was glad I didn’t have to decide what we were going to do.

I told him, “The Federation ship has been watching us obviously. He came out of stealth and went right through the fleet. Unless they’ve developed something new, he couldn’t have known the Strangers would emerge where they did. Yet he did and he destroyed them just after they emerged and before they could fire.”

Father said with an approval he seldom showed towards our governing body, “The Council head has sent out orders to all ships to remain where they are. We’re going to lose ships, but if we had scattered the Strangers would have abandoned their usual pattern of attack and sent all of their ships in at once. What about the Federation ship?”

I said to him, “He and the pilot is male, has taken up a position on the port side. I felt his mind as he went through the fleet, father. He knows that the Strangers will be coming from that vector and that they will show up within five of his minutes. He also knows this is the first of a series of attacks. Although he doesn’t know that under the normal Stranger attack pattern there will be a dozen separate attacks.

Travis Ericsson

I was puzzled. I knew things I couldn’t possibly know. I had known the ships were going to appear and I knew that they were just the first in a series. I had lived a very long time and though I had had hunches on many occasions in the past, this was far more than simply a hunch.

Though we had border troubles with the Hanaan, we were not yet officially at war with them, though it wouldn’t really have mattered if we were. They were defenseless and my honor demanded that I protect defenseless people.

Taken by surprise, sure that they were facing unarmed ships, they had been easy targets. The others were going to be more careful and I knew that I was going to die. My sensors had gotten good readings from the ships before I had destroyed them. Individually they weren’t as powerful as my ship, but they were much stronger than my first kills had indicated.

I came alert as my mind told me it was almost time and I added a little speed so that I’d be going directly away from the stopped ships towards the fighters. Dangerous, if they got past me, but my instruments told me that the Hanaan had their shields up and they hadn’t scattered. They must have faced this type of attack before. If they were willing to take risks, I had to do the same.

The new fighters came out of hyper about a million miles from the fleet. They were well separated so that I wouldn’t be able to take both of them out at the same times like I had done with their predecessors. I fired half a dozen missiles at one of the fighters while I went after the other, hopefully that would keep it busy for a few seconds.

When I was in range of the other one I fired the anti-matter beams. The first shots were simply absorbed by his shield though my sensors told me they had been degraded by fifty percent. Then I was in his range and he fired back at me. The anti-matter beams hit my shield and I was astonished at the strength of them. They degraded my shields by almost three percent.

I sent a command for an alpha-pattern evasion attack and we began to spiral and weave all over the place. The AI was telling me the anti-matter beams were charged up and ready for a second shot. This time I was in too close for his shields to help him and the anti-matter beams went right through them and the ship disintegrated.

I was aware the other ship had me on weapons lock and it fired before I could alter the attack pattern. I felt the jolt of that one, losing almost five percent to the shields. Finally my anti-matter beams were recharged and I let go with the aft beams, taking him by surprise and they went through his shields. Like the other ships, he blew up.

But I had lost eight percent of my shields and I had only been hit twice. I couldn’t afford to take much more damage. Not that I was worried about me, I already knew that I had little hope of survival, but with my ship destroyed the fleet would be helpless.

Fal-na Etal

I rejoiced as the second pair of Strangers was destroyed, but I could feel the pilot’s thoughts and he was worried about us. He met the next attack that came from almost a ninety degree angle from the first two attacks.

The Strangers were carrying Passengers. Such a harmless sounding name for such deadly little ships. He got all four of them, but he suffered severe damage.

Wa-Tan, who was watching damage reports on the Federation ship, said, in a despondent voice, “Well that’s it. His shields went down briefly when one of the Passengers and one of the fighters hit his ship at the same time and the Strangers were able to take out his engine. They had to go almost into touching range and even with shields down he took both of them out.”

I looked at my screen and said with astonishment, “If his engines are gone, how can he still be moving?”

Then when he came into range I could feel the burning in his mind and I said in a whisper of awe, “Telekinesis. Nobody should be able to move a ship that big with only his mind.”

Travis Ericsson

My shields had gone down briefly when both of the two remaining ships had hit them at the same time and then the fighter had taken out my engines. If the fighters had mounted heavier anti-matter beams that would have been it and my ship would have been gone. They didn’t have a chance to hit me again, as I fired my anti-matter beams destroying both of their ships.

My engines were gone, but my reactor wasn’t damaged and it only took a few seconds for the computer to reroute the power links so my shields were back up, but only at forty-six percent. Half of the shield elements would have to be replaced before the shields would be at one hundred percent again. The ship could do it but not while in battle.

I felt despair as I knew that I could no longer protect the fleet. I wished that the ship could still move, somehow, anyway. Then suddenly my mind began burning and the ship began moving. My instruments no longer showed me my speed so I didn’t know how fast I was moving, but I didn’t care. I was just happy I was in motion and somehow I knew that I’d get to where I needed to be in time.

Fal-na Etal

Along with the burning, the pilot’s mind was now wide open and I knew that he was both very young and at the same time very old. But he didn’t know the pattern of attacks. Not that it would have helped if he had known that the Strangers would split up and attack from either side of the fleet. He could only be in one place at a time.

He wasn’t moving very fast, but he was right on top of the Stranger when it came out of hyper and he triggered his anti-matter beams. Remotely almost, I looked at the second screen that I had focused on the opposite side of the fleet where I knew the other Stranger would come out.

I saw it emerge, then I felt a burst of agony so powerful that almost everyone in the fleet who wasn’t completely mind blind felt it as well. Suddenly the Federation ship was on the top of the Stranger and it had no chance as the boy rammed it.

I had been in awe when I had realized that the pilot had used telekinesis. Now I was just numb at the knowledge that he had just teleported his ship over a million miles.

Wa-Tan said and there was the same awe in her voice as I was feeling, “His shields are gone and the reactor is badly damag...”

I interrupted as I watched the astounding sight, “He’s moving again, heading outward.” We could all feel his mind now and there was no longer anything in it but the determination to protect those who had somehow ended up under his guardianship.

We watched as we knew he was heading to his death, but we could feel his mind and we knew that his honor demanded it. We had sometimes doubted that humans had the concept of honor, but nobody aboard these ships any longer doubted it and at least in this boy it was as strong as any Hanaan had ever shown.

Suddenly we felt his mind relax and I saw from my tracking screen that he had altered his course and was no longer heading toward where the next pair of Strangers would come out of hyper.

None of us doubted him, somehow he knew that he was no longer needed. That was proven very quickly as the Strangers came out of hyper and less than five seconds later one of our heavy cruisers emerged right behind them. Their destruction was quick.

We could feel that the boy, now that we were no longer in danger, his honor had turned to his need to do his duty. We could feel him set the self-destruct on his ship, his duty now requiring him to make sure that his vessel would not come into our hands. We felt him lose consciousness and the whole bridge watched his ship on the main screen wondering if he would die with the destruction of his ship.

I was relieved when I saw on my dedicated instruments a life-pod eject just seconds before the ship self-destructed.

FIVE-July 19, 2909

Travis Ericsson

I thought I would wake up with a horrendous headache but I didn’t, but then I didn’t know how long I had been asleep at that time. When I opened my eyes, I saw a couple of humans in the uniform of Federation Med-Techs. However, this was certainly no sick bay or hospital that I had ever seen before.

It was obviously not human built and the light coming in through the windows was not quite the light of Terra or, in fact, of any planet I had ever been on before.

I pushed myself to a sitting position and swinging my legs over the side of the bed I placed them on the floor. The two Med-Techs turned to look at me and since they didn’t tell me to stay in bed, I stood up and walked to the window.

We were on the top floor of a three story building. As I looked around, I could tell that we were in a luxurious house.

Without turning around, I said, “I won’t use that old line, ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.’ Unlike most people today, I actually know where the line originated. Obviously, we’re on a Hanaan world. Would I know the name?”

The older man said, “I’m Marsh Evert, Travis and I’m your Chief Med-Tech and the world is called Etal Vala. It’s the capital planet of the Etal Clan. They brought you here after they recovered your life-pod.”

He said with wonder in his voice, “How you performed such incredible feats of psionic’s we don’t know, but you caused severe damage to your mind while doing it. You’ve been here for over a year and the Hanaan put you into a deep sleep and when we arrived we kept you in it, while your mind healed.”

Evert explained, “There is a theory that the mind and brain are not exactly the same. Our research on you seems to indicate that the idea has some basis in reality, because neither we nor the Hanaan could find any physical damage. Nor could we find any basic difference between your brain and the majority of human brains.”

“At the same time those people that we know have psionic abilities show evidence of it in the structure of the brain.”

I told him truthfully, “I’m afraid I can’t help you, all I can do is point out the fact that I’m the oldest human being that ever lived. I was born in two thousand and six, and, aside from eighty years in the twenty-first century when I was in the deep freeze, I’ve been awake all of that time. I’ve never even been a great believer in hunches, because fifty percent of the time my hunches are wrong.”

I shrugged my shoulders before continuing, “I do know that my mind and memory are structured differently than almost any other human being, even other cyborgs who have lived for centuries. In twenty-five hundred and four, I was drowning in my memories. AP Inc asked some mystics if they could help. While most of them were fakes and frauds there were three who actually had the ability they claimed.”

I gave a nod of approval before saying, “With their help I gained complete access to my memory and I restructured it. What I call my active memory only goes back approximately ten years, though it includes my skills memory that covers abilities I’ve gained over the years. Plus special memories are always active. My passive memory goes back one hundred years and my inactive memory makes up the rest.”

“I can access my passive memory almost as fast as my active memory but my inactive memory is harder to reach and requires a trance state. When in a trance I can actually go through my inactive memory and discard parts or, if I wish, move them to the active part of my brain.”

I had to smile, as I continued, “Most of our memories are of things we do over and over again. For instance if you lived in a house for forty years which has three front steps and you climbed it once a day you would have done so thousands of times. If you even want to retain the memories of climbing those steps then you simply leave maybe a couple memories and discard the rest. I don’t know if they still exist somewhere, but they are no longer accessible.”

I grinned as I said, “Other cyborgs have developed different methods for managing their memories and many of them seem better than mine. But then most cyborgs are adults and my way of doing it preserves my apparent age much better, so in most cases I feel and react like a child.”

Suddenly as a thought came to me, I looked at them suspiciously, “Why am I still here?” I demanded.

Evert hurried to reassure me, “Don’t worry, the Federation wants you back, though they are somewhat worried about the abilities that you displayed. However, you’re here for two reasons. The Hanaan are much more familiar with psionic abilities than we are. At the same time they wish to honor you for what you did.”

“That is truth, Travis Ericsson.” a voice said in a deep rumbling voice. I spun around going into a defensive crouch. It had been a long time since anyone had been able to sneak up on me. Once I saw whom it was I straightened up and relaxed. Compared to him a cat walked noisily.

Jordan Marius Wayne, at seven feet five inches tall, had been considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. When it came to comparing players of different eras, we had an advantage over people from the early twenty-first centuries, when I had been born.

The computers of today, once fed every game that had been recorded for a particular player, were able to extrapolate and compare players of different eras, to come up with a base standard. On that standard, Trent Wayne was in the top five.

I nodded to him and he nodded back and held out one huge black hand and took my small hand in his. I told him, “I met your ancestor. That was just after I was released from the deep freeze and I had gotten my first body. While it looked human enough, it was very clumsy. I was introduced to Marius when he made an appearance at the Artificial Persons compound as one of the major stockholders. He actually saw through the shell I was wearing to the little kid inside.”

“He was the first person who had ever been able to do that.” I reflected on that moment and I remembered the joy I had felt as he looked at me and saw... a kid rather than a robot or an android. Everyone else I knew, even my guardians, saw the reverse and had to keep reminding themselves that there was a human brain inside my android body.

My voice got husky as I remembered the day I had heard the news. “When his plane crashed, I cried for days. Not outside, because that body and in fact most of the ones I’ve had, had no tear ducts.” I put my hand up to my cheek and found... nothing, as I continued ruefully. “While this is the most advanced body I’ve had, tears were not considered necessary, but oh how wrong they’ve always been. To be able to cry honest tears again.” And I fell silent, hoping that someday they would come up with a way for me to cry.

Jordan Marius Wayne

I had known from his file how old he was, but it staggered me when he told me that he had actually known an ancestor and one who had been dead for more than seven hundred years.

Despite his real age, as I spent time with him over the next couple of months, I found out that basically he was a child. In most cases he reacted like my three children but occasionally it was like he was the adult and we were the children.

Shaking off my feelings that were almost of awe, I told him, “As Marsh said, the Hanaan want to pay their respects to you. You showed them that we had honor. The problems we’ve had with them have been because they doubted that we understood the concept. You showed them that we do, or at least some of us do and not even all of the Hanaan are honorable.”

I explained that, “Demaas, the planet on which the Hanaan evolved, has two moons called Hanaa and Issfar. Hanaa is much like our moon and appears silvery like Luna does. Issfar is somewhat different. The crust has a material in it that makes it look like gold in the night skies. Their two most important awards are called The Crescents, the Silver Crescent and the Golden Crescent. The Silver Crescent is equivalent to the Federation Medal of Honor, which is given out to military personnel, or the Medal of Valor, which is the civilian equivalent. It’s given out for outstanding bravery.”

I was watching Travis and I saw his eyes getting bigger and bigger. I was glad that the designer’s of his body had given him the ability to show emotion even if they didn’t consider tears important. I said, “The Golden Crescent is very different and has only been given out eight times since the Hanaan made the first trips to their moons. Humans have nothing that is remotely like it. The recipients must show bravery yes, but they must also display honor and their actions must cause a significant shift in the social structure of the Hanaan.”

I had to smile at the look of shock on his face. I said, “Since we first encountered them in the early part of the twenty-sixth century, we have fought them dozens of times in border clashes and one major war. You showed them that some of us at least are as honorable as the Hanaan and are to be respected. They pulled their military back from the border and for the first time in our histories we are negotiating a serious cultural treaty, not simply a peace treaty.”

I felt solemn as I said, “Your bravery and honor has caused a major shift in Hanaan policy and it will be reflected in their society. Therefore their honor requires them to award you the Golden Crescent.”

SIX-July 26, 3311

Jeff gave a whistle of surprise when the Vid ended and when he looked over at Travis he could see that the boy was blushing. He was amused that he had already almost forgotten the fact that the boy was a cyborg and the blush showed him how good the new body was.

Orsy appeared back on the screen, “Travis was directly responsible for the fact that today the Hanaan are our greatest friends. That’s why he was given the Golden Crescent by the Hanaan, because they anticipated what actually occurred.”

“As Ambassador Wayne said, there is no similarity to anything we have ever had in human society. No ceremony even approaches it. The only analogue that I can think of is when a celebrity is given the key to the city. It’s simply a honorary gesture and normally confers no extra privileges.”

He paused for a moment before saying emphatically, “The Hanaan have no concept of honorary gestures. When they hand out honors, they are always real. In effect, Travis was handed the key to the Hanaan Empire with no caveats. About fifteen-hundred years ago, at a time when the Hanaan Empire still had Emperors, the Emperor at that time proposed a war against another star nation. He had enthusiastic support from his Council and the Senate at that time was pro war as well.

“One of the early holders of the award, stood up and just said five words, in a quiet tone of voice, ‘There will be no war.’ and he turned and left the Senate chambers. The Emperor still wanted war, but he found that while his people would obey him in any other matter, they ignored any orders about preparing for war. Finally the Emperor just gave up.”

Travis said, “I gather there are Hanaan forces available?”

Orsy nodded and said, “Yes, there is a battleship and three heavy cruisers as escorts outside of the solar system. They are waiting for five light cruisers to join them before they start making courtesy calls in this sector of space. I intercepted com signals between them and a Hanaan courier which is in orbit. I gather the Hanaan admiral is livid. The light cruisers were supposed to be waiting and they’d better have a good excuse when they arrive, or they might end up in the dumper.”


The com officer looked in surprise as the face of a small human boy appeared on screen. The boy spoke a short phrase in Hanaan and the com began to broadcast a trill of sound. The sound lasted for two seconds and then there was a pause of one second and another trill. It repeated five times and then ceased.

Revel ad Odar looked with astonishment as the boy on the screen was identified as Travis Ericsson, the only living holder of the Golden Crescent and awe and a glow of pleasure went through him. As he addressed the boy, “Honored One, how may we serve you.” he knew his name would become known throughout the Navy.

“I’m aboard a long distance shuttle provided by the planet Persis and I’m approaching your location. I want to speak to the Admiral.” the boy said.

Jeff Niven

Travis looked with humor at the Admiral, “Hello, my child.”

I was astonished at the sight of the Admiral. I knew that each of the Hanaan clans had different color fur. The impressively muscled catlike Hanaan's fur was white with no indication that he was an albino. At least it was unlikely with those deep black eyes. The Admiral inclined his head in respect saying, “Hello, grandfather. Have the humans gotten over the silly notion that you’re still a child?”

Travis sighed and shook his head and said, "Unfortunately not. They see my cyborg body and they tend to treat me like a child in spite of my chronological age."

He looked at me with those large blue eyes and his lips were curved with amusement. He said to me, "As you may have gathered, Froseen and I aren't strangers." and I nodded.

Travis reached out and touched the Admiral on the wrist and stroked his white fur with a gesture so intimate and loving that the affection between them was obvious.

Travis said softly, "Once dyed white fur was a sign of the clanless, of Strangers, in fact who had repudiated much of what the Hanaan stood for. Now it is the color of the Favored Clan. The Hanaan found one of the Strangers hidden bases. None of the adults were willing to surrender and they fought to the death. That left forty-five younglings with the dyed white fur of Strangers."

Travis shook his head, saying, "They were clanless and only the Etal clan was willing to accept them. But still their fur marked them out and would always do so. Finial Tar Etal, the Etal clan leader, brought that to my attention. He suggested that their white fur could become a badge of honor, under the right circumstances."

He looked at the Admiral and said, "Once I adopted them and started my own clan, it became just that. Over the centuries, they have done me and the Hanaan Empire proud."

Travis gave a grin, "I certainly don't want to go through the first few years with them again." He gave a shudder, before continuing, "That wasn't any fun at all."

I asked him, puzzled, "If you have a position like that, why did you ever come back to the Federation?"

His face was solemn as he said, "Gerrit's father, John Ericsson, sent me a message about the new body that his company and the Curcel's were developing. The Hanaan are as advanced in cybernetics as humans are. However, their expertise when it comes to cyborgs is based on Hanaan physiology. If I want to improve my body, I must rely on humans to do it."

There was evident sadness on his face, "As soon as I got his message, I headed for Terra, but, by the time that I got there, he had died. He was one of my best friends. He always saw my humanity and the sorrow I felt was deep and painful."

Travis literally shook himself as he continued, speaking, "Gerrit was aware of my existence, but he wasn't aware of my life in the Hanaan Empire. Also, as I mentioned, he didn't like androids or robots and I reminded him too much of them. He didn't want to know anything about me. His conversations with me never included more than the absolute minimum number of words that he needed. But still, I could see the goodness in him and despite the way he kept me at arm's-length, I couldn't help but like him and then love him."

Travis shook his head and with a gesture he put it behind him, saying, "Gerrit was murdered and his murderers must be punished. Horace Fitzpatrick is a Colonel in the Federation Office of Protection. Like me, he's a cyborg and he's presently orbiting Persis in a scout cruiser."

His small face was stern with anger as he continued, "He witnessed Gerrit's murder on his scanners and saw the murderer use a shuttle to get to an Albrect Confederacy ship. His ship has been tampered with and he couldn't lock weapons on them."

Travis put his hand into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out his com. He set the com on the desk and opened it and turned it on. He continued saying, "This is a recorded conversation."

Horace Fitzgibbon, appeared on the holographic screen, "As a Colonel in the Federation Office of Protection, I hereby deputize Travis William Ericsson former employee of this department and Jefferson Thomas Niven presently sheriff of Kidwely County, Persis to seize and hold the Albrect Confederacy Ship Molly Derven on suspicion of a possible act of war."

Travis turned the com off and pocketed it saying, "I know as a holder of the Golden Crescent you would have accepted my orders anyway, whatever the consequences, but these credentials cover your ass." And he had a wide grin on his face.

The Admiral nodded, asking with more formality, then he had been using, "How may I help you, Honored One?"

Travis' face was solemn as he also spoke in a much more formal way, "I need your Phantoms, Admiral Froseen Tak Atra, to apprehend the ACS Molly Derven. I need to capture his murderers, but, at the same time, I owe it to Gerrit to complete his mission, if at all possible. If we can find out why he was killed, I may need your whole task force."

The Admiral nodded his massive head saying, "Yes, Honored One. What is Hanaan is yours."


Travis Ericsson

As we were walking along the corridor following the Admiral, Jeff asked me, "What are Phantoms?"

I said to him, "Like our Navy, the Hanaan carry Marines. Phantoms are part of the Marines, but they have more specialized duties. In a planetary battle, they are the forward element going behind enemy lines. They're especially trained in boarding ships and taking control of them. They create an opening and the regular Marines come after them."


I looked at the Hanaan in the briefing room. None of them, except for the Admiral, were of my clan, but I knew they were aware of what I had done to earn the Golden Crescent. It was something that was taught in all Hanaan schools.

I wrapped up my briefing on the Molly Derven. I said to them, "I'm sorry that the information is so sketchy. If it was a Terran or Hanaan ship we'd have much more detailed information about it."

I felt sorrow, as I said, "I need to complete Gerrit's journey, not just apprehend his killer. To complete it it's necessary to prevent them from purging their computers memory." I paused for a second, before saying, "In this case we don't have to board the ship to do that. One of the abilities that I possess is the ability to interface directly with a computer. I simply need to get within two hundred yards of the ship; from there I can tap into it."

I gave a grin at my attentive listeners, before saying, "That's the easy part. The hard part is that we will need to stay in stealth for fifteen to twenty minutes, because it will take me that long to gain full control of the ships computer. Once I've done that I will isolate its occupants and have the computer open the airlocks."

I gave a warning, "Be cautious when you board! While they will be isolated, it doesn't mean they won't be armed."


The Phantoms assault shuttle was much smaller than the ones the Marines normally used. The passenger carrying capacity was even more limited. It was simply stuffed full of electronic warfare equipment and shielding capacity. As far as I was aware they were the stealthiest vessels anywhere in Hanaan or Federation space.

Its skin was infused with a flat black color. As long as it approached from space and didn't occlude a star, it was very hard to see visually when in space. The Etalonaar Froseen's flagship carried two of them, each with a lift capacity of thirty Marines. She also carried four regular assault shuttles each with a lift capacity of one hundred and ten Marines and all their equipment.


We were within ten thousand miles of the Derven, running silently and our forward velocity slowed to a crawl. As we approached to one hundred miles, we slowed even more. At that point even a model T Ford, from the beginning of the twentieth century, could've run away from us. It took us almost four hours to travel the last ninety-eight miles and another hour for the last two miles.

Eln Na Besal, the Marine lieutenant in charge of the Phantom assault shuttle, leaned back in his seat and said with evident satisfaction, "We're in position, Honored One."

I nodded saying, "You've done a really good job Eln." And I could see him swell with pride from the complement.

Closing my eyes, I reached out with my mind. Reaching, REACHING, FINDING. I had to be just as careful in what I was now doing as we had been in approaching the Derven. If I was careless, the computer would be able to detect me and might purge its memory at that point.

I was probably at one of the airlocks and there was a pathway reaching inward. I carefully piggybacked on the stream of electrons and followed it inwards. I needed the core memory and I couldn't rush. When I piggybacked myself, I had created a tiny surge in power.

A computer on a military vessel might very well regard that tiny surge as a threat and inform one of the ships officers. What I did next is hard to explain, the closest analogue that I can think of would be a soldier flattening himself on the ground and slowly, oh so very slowly, crawling forward toward an objective.

Reaching the core programming I cautiously began to spread myself out, taking the computer over and leaving part of myself behind, to keep control. Within a few minutes I was in complete control of the core programming.

As I found out, the Molly Derven was armed, but not a military vessel. I reached outward for the IO ports, first blocking any way to purge the computer memory. Then I began controlling all IO ports between the computer and the humans occupying the ship.

They were thirty-three crewmembers and one passenger. One by one I began to isolate the twenty-two men and eleven women. There were three men and three women on the bridge, the Captain, her first officer and four crewmen. I sealed the lift door and then evacuated the air from the lift shaft stranding the lift itself between decks.

It took me fifteen minutes to deal with the whole crew. If you're wondering how I was able to do all that without raising any alarms, you must remember that the computer controlled all alarms. Since I controlled the computer, I controlled the alarms.

I suspected that the passenger was the person I wanted. Right now, he was in his room working on a personal Comp Padd. Suspecting that it might tell me what I wanted to know, even if the man wouldn't, I wanted that Comp Padd in the worst way.

Patiently, I watched and waited. I was in no particular hurry. Fortunately, after about five minutes he turned the Comp Padd off and went into the tiny head. With satisfaction I sealed the door of the tiny toilet after him and evacuated the air from his cabin. The air in the head should last long enough for us to physically take the ship.

I had complete command of the ship, and, perhaps of more importance, I had separated the passenger from his computer. I opened my eyes and said to Eln, with evident satisfaction in my voice, "I was completely successful and I have opened the airlocks. Bring us in." And he nodded with a look of delight on his face.

Making some delicate adjustments on his controls he brought us into contact, airlock to airlock. Of course it was much easier to enter the Derven than would normally be the case when boarding a ship. We just had to walk in, rather than blow our way in. Turning to Jeff Niven who was in the supplementary jump seat. I asked him, "Are you ready to go?" And he nodded.

I was pleased to see that despite our easy entrance, none of the Phantoms took any chances. In thirty minutes Niven and I were facing the Captain on her bridge.

Telepathy wasn't one of my abilities nor was empathy. The ability to interface with a computer wasn't telepathy, not even xeno-telepathy. In the past I had known xeno-telepaths who were able to interface with computers to a certain extent. No one I had ever heard of could do it to the extent I could.

The Captain was playing the outraged citizen of the Albrect Confederacy to the hilt and I sensed that she didn't know what one of her crewmen or her passenger had done. She was addressing her words at Sheriff Niven and Lieutenant Eln and ignoring me.

She finished with, "How dare you board the Molly Derven? She is owned by Captain-Governor of Neubeolin in the Albrect Confederacy and has full Diplomatic Immunity!!!"

I thought with amusement both Hanaan and human males tended to be uncomfortable under the wrath of females. Both of my companions were showing obvious signs of discomfort.

I decided it was time to intervene taking the heat off of them and putting it on me. I said, "Captain Weiss." And as I intended, her glare turned to me.

She snorted and said, "Who the hell are you little boy?!!" in a deliberately offensive tone of voice.

I couldn't help it, I thought it was funny and I giggled, before saying, "My name is Travis Ericsson and I'm not really a little boy. I'm a cyborg and in fact, I'm quite an elderly gentleman. In age at any rate."

I took a Vid disk out of the pocket of my shorts. Moving over to the communications station, I handed a disk to a communications officer and said tersely, "Play this on the main screen!" And turning to the Captain, I told her, "This will tell you why we're here and why we're justified in being here."

The communications officer looked at his Captain and though he didn't say anything, he was obviously asking whether he should run it. She said grudgingly, bitingly, "Run it!!"

My heart ached as the Vid that Orsy's scanners had captured began to run and I watched Gerrit and the informant die. While I didn't know the man, he was still a living human being and I regretted his death as well.

As the Vid ran I could see the tension rising in the Captain and she watched the man commit the murders. The man after searching the dead bodies of the two men and walked to a clearing where there was on ag-car but he ignored it and called down a passenger shuttle to pick him up. We watched the shuttle take off and then the watched it all the way until it docked at the Molly Derven.

After the Vid went blank I said sharply, "I don't know the other man but Gerrit Ericsson is a major in the Federation Office of Protection. That makes his murder a possible act of war. Under galactic law acts of war are not covered by Diplomatic Immunity."


The Haanan Marines escorted Gerhardt Mueller, the Molly Derven's lone passenger and Gerrit's murderer, into the Captain's briefing room. I was civil to the man but my voice was cold and hard. I motioned him to a chair and said, "Sit down, Mr. Mueller. I have something for you to see."

I nodded at the ship's communications officer and he put the Vid on the briefing room screen. The man undoubtedly had figured out that we were here because of the murders. His face did what he told it to, just showing polite interest. However, there was no way that he could hide his body language and it was showing obvious tension.

Mueller rested his arms on the table and asked, not admitting that the man on the Vid was him. He asked, "What do you intend to do about it? I have Diplomatic Immunity."

I told him, "You may or may not have Diplomatic Immunity depending on whether you were acting as an individual or as an agent of your government. If it's as a private individual we will recognize your Diplomatic Immunity. If it's as an agent of your government the killing of an agent from the Federation Office of Protection is considered an act of war and your Diplomatic Immunity shall not be recognized."

I gave a sigh, then said, "You screwed up badly, Mr. Mueller. You probably haven't had time to think about it yet, since you're just now becoming aware of the evidence against you. I'll give you a few minutes to think. Once you have had time to think about it, Colonel Horace Fitzpatrick of the Federation Office of Protection has instructed me to make an offer."

While his face still didn't show what he was thinking, his body language was becoming increasingly edgy. After a few minutes of thought. he asked, "What's the offer?"

I told him, "In this case, you choose to waive your Diplomatic Immunity. We try you for the two murders. First-degree murder requires a mandatory fifty year sentence for each murder."

Mueller gave a snort of derision, "Sure, I end up in an eight foot by eight foot cell!! I'd rather be dead!!"

I shook my head, telling him, "While we do incarcerate people at times, they are normally the criminally insane. For the majority of convicts, they end up on a prison planet. While medical technology and communications are fully modern, we maintain a social level comparable to pre-firearms Terra. In other words, horsepower and wind power."

I smiled but there was no amusement in it, "But in this case we could choose to accept your claim of Diplomatic Immunity and escort you back to the Confederacy. If the Captain-Governor is your boss, well, the Confederacy tends to deal harshly with failure and you'll probably quietly disappear."

I shook my head, saying, "If the Captain-Governor isn't your boss, then you'll probably have a very public trial and a very public execution."

Mueller's body didn't actually slump as he realized the fix that he was in, but there was a bit of relaxation in his tense muscles as he made his decision. He nodded and sighed, "I'll accept your deal." He looked at the Captain, who had been watching the proceedings with no expression on her face.

He looked back at me. He said, "My boss is the Lieutenant Governor of Neubeolin, Mace Gendron. At least I'm pretty sure he is. Whenever I've seen him, his demeanor is simply that of a man totally in command."

Mueller shrugged his shoulders, "He could be a very good actor and simply be the cut off man, but I don't really think so."

He paused for a few seconds and I prompted him, "Tell us what the deal is?"

Mueller nodded and then said, "All of the ships taken had large quantities of pharmaceuticals. In an of itself, that's not unusual. Almost all of the ships heading for the Albrecht Confederacy have some drugs aboard. That's the chief product traded from the Federation to the Confederacy."

"We take the ships to get the drugs. The insurance companies cover the loss to the pharmaceutical companies. They have to repeat the shipment and the second shipment goes through. The Albrect Confederacy still gets the drugs, only delayed a little. We get the drugs from the original shipments and sell them outside the Confederacy for five to ten times their original prices."

I shook my head at the greed of man. Yes, the Albrect Confederacy would get the shipments, eventually. I wondered if he ever thought about his little statement that the drugs would simply be delayed by a little bit. How many lives had those delays cost?

Mueller continued talking for about 30 minutes, detailing the mechanics of how the shipments were captured. One thing that relieved my mind was the fact that the crews of the merchant ships were not harmed. They were landed on one of the Albrect Confederacy's frontier planets. As of their last check, all of the crew men and women were still alive and in good health.

He cleared his throat and then got to Gerrit's murder. He said, "One of the biggest pharmaceutical companies is based on Persis. We suspected that our agent here intended to betray us. I was instructed to deal with him if that was the case. I followed him to the meeting and carried out my orders."

I snorted my contempt for him. Fine words for a cold-blooded murder, but he would be punished for his crime. He would spend the next one hundred years on a backwoods planet carving out a living. It was a hard life, a life that our ancestors had needed to go through. Some people loved that type of life.

My reading of this Gerhardt Mueller told me that he wouldn't be one of them. He would loathe every second of it. The simple fact that he was there involuntarily would continually remind him of why he was there and why he worked so hard to stay alive. That in my estimation was a satisfactory punishment for this man.

EPILOGUE-September 8, 3011

Jeff Niven looked down at me and said, "My family will miss you, Travis. Are you sure you don't want to stay?"

I smiled and shook my head. I told him, "I was just waiting for everything to be over. With the return of the crewmembers of the merchant ships and the trial and execution of the Lieutenant Governor of Neubeolin, it's over."

I looked over at his wife and kids who watched us solemnly, already having said their goodbyes. I turned my eyes back on him, saying, "The Federation is no longer my home," sighing with regret. "Even today, most humans still have trouble accepting a cyborg. I think the paranoia of the core systems is going to spread. It tends to wax and wane and right now it's on the rise."

I shrugged my shoulders, as I said, "Your family saw me as human and I enjoyed my time with you, but outside of your family circle, I wasn't very welcome."

I smiled at him and then waved at his family. I told him, "I regard you and your family as friends, close friends in fact and I will visit." I looked in the sky, saying, "I'm not impressed with my status as a holder of the Golden Crescent. But the Haanan ignore the fact that I'm a cyborg and simply see my humanity."

My heart was singing with anticipation and I said, simply "I'm going home where I belong."




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