The Ladies were crying with relief of being free again, although they were still terribly worried about Mlane’s and Heile’s paralyzing conditions. None of them knew what to do next, and they were all waiting for Ghethe hoping he was able to help.
     Ghethe knew the paralyzing conditions of the two Ladies were the result of a very strong psychokinetic action which the monstrous woman, Vara Santrem, performed when it was obvious she had lost the fight. She didn’t do the same thing to Ahlane because her brother needed her to take over the miraculous spaceships. Consequently, he had ordered her expressly not to harm Ahlane regardless of the circumstances.
     When he arrived onboard Arpel, Ghethe took very gently, in turn, Mlane and then Heile into the Laboratory, then he laid them on the two medical beds. He asked to be left alone with the injured Ladies. Next, he examined the zone of the spinal cord fracture of each Lady, and he noticed the fractures were not completed in either case, which was of great relief. The Ladies had different structures of the spinal cord, and Ghethe decided to start with Mlane because her anatomy was far more complex.
     He suggested each Lady into a relaxing sleep, then he closed his eyes and placed his gloved hands around Mlane’s neck. The gloves contained powerful psychokinetic amplifiers which allowed him to focus his mental activity down to a macromolecular level. The work was incredibly difficult during the first i-std. hour; slowly afterwards, his internal vision and skills improved dramatically.
     It took Ghethe more than six i-std. hours to rearrange each nervous fascicule in the proper place, to bond the nervous cells together, to restore nerves’ insulation in the bond zone, and then to repair the integrity of the protecting sheaths. He took his time, and he checked each corresponding nerve for a proper connection, and for a proper insulation, then he checked mechanically the bond zone a few times, to make certain the job was properly completed.
     When he was finished, he barely had little powers left to wake Mlane up. He told her to let him sleep for no more than two i-std. hours, then he lay down on the floor and fell asleep.

     Mlane moved quietly and left the Laboratory suite. She discovered Ahlane and Petha monitoring the camera on Ghethe’s spacesuit in the Main Salon. Ahlane embraced Mlane gently, then she started asking her about how she was felling, and if she was all right. Mlane assured Ahlane and Petha that she was perfectly well, and same was going to be Heile, with Ghethe’s help.
     Ahlane wanted to go to the Laboratory, to help Ghethe into a more comfortable position, but Petha told her to let him be, because he did not sleep on a bed since the day they had been kidnapped. Ahlane was shocked by Ghethe’s strange behavior. She asked Petha to tell them what happened since their abduction.

     Exactly two i-std. hours later, Mlane entered the Laboratory suite, then she shook Ghethe gently. He told her to leave, then he waited for a few moments to clear his mind and to regain his concentration.
     Ghethe put his gloved hands around Heile’s neck. She had a simpler anatomical structure of the spinal cord, only her internal tissues were far more fragile than Mlane’s. Overall, it took him another five i-std. hours of straining mental work to complete the task. When he woke up Heile, he advised her to move her head cautiously for the next couple of i-std. days, and to wake him up after no more than six i-std. hours. He lay down on the floor again, and he immediately fell asleep.

     Ahlane was greatly worried about Ghethe’s unnatural behavior, although she did understand that he was in a particular psychical condition. She knew he had postponed his fight against those miserable criminals, in order to help Mlane and Heile, therefore she could only hope he had sufficient powers left to end that horrendous threat once and for all.


M19-2     Six i-std. hours later, Ahlane entered the Laboratory, then she shook Ghethe gently. He looked at her through his helmet, then asked, “Are you all right, Ahlane? You must tell Arpel to perform complete medical analyses on each of you.”
     “Yes, Ghethe, we will . . . I . . . I want you back,” said Ahlane timidly, and looking very sad.
     “I shall come back, Ahlane; soon,” promised Ghethe in his detached voice. He further ignored her presence; he changed the power units of his armor, then he went outside Arpel.

     About ninety Interceptor-Proctor ships had stationary positions at various altitudes around Arpel, protecting it from all sides, while thousands more circled around the Palace watching for any enemy move.
     He called telepathically, “Commander Vatano, send an escort to me: I am coming into the Palace. Commander Kolwan, what is the situation?
     “We face little or no resistance, Sir. Any resistance is thoroughly annihilated,” reported Dalbesh Kolwan.
     “Remember that I want no communications from this System out, Commander. Continue the fights until no resistance, and no enemy armed structures are left in a functional condition. Destroy all the power sources throughout the System. I want total control, Commander.
     “You shall have total control, Sir,” promised Dalbesh Kolwan.
     “Sir, your escort is ready,” announced Terel Vatano.
     “I want three teams of engineers, cameras, video and sound transmission equipment, light projectors, energy panels, shield generators, and mobile power generator units at the Control Room, Vatano.
     “Everything is on the way towards the designated location, Sir.

     Ghethe mounted the transport module, then he entered the Palace. It was dark inside, and only the Imperial Guards were moving around using the infrared filters of their helmets. The Palace was frozen in immobility without any energy available. From place to place there were shielded Imperial Guards nests with heavy artillery anchored near the ceiling in most cases, and guarding all strategic routes of access. Other mobile units mounted on transport modules and carrying heavy firepower, each with two backup units guarding the front one, were patrolling the Palace: they protected teams of military engineers working to detect any data or energy flow.
     Imperial Guards bodies were picked up and evacuated, but Ghethe had no eyes to see them. Other teams worked on disintegrating the bodies of the enemies. There were many indications of heavy fights, and there were damaged construction elements everywhere. The floors, the walls, and the ceiling had enormous holes or they were entirely blown out, and there were piles of armored military gear destroyed everywhere in sight.

     When he reached the Control Room, Ghethe ordered the military engineers to work on powering the hydraulic mechanisms of the entrance gate from external circuits. He wanted recording cameras and adequate illumination to be installed in front of the gate, then he checked with Arpel and Petha the quality of the sounds and images. Energy panels were installed around the gate, forming an enclosure, and additional Imperial Guards serving powerful artillery units were deployed in shielded nests, watching all directions, and ready to face any attack.


M19-3     In the Main Salon on Arpel the tension appeared to take a material consistence. They were all comfortably seated in the Conference Area observing the preparations for action displayed on many three-dimensional projections. All of them were scared, anticipating the events, because they knew that the coming i-std. hours were going to decide not only their fate, but also the fate of everybody else in Imperial Worlds.
     Ahlane told Arpel to lower the illumination level because she had tears in her eyes most of the time. Mlane came close, then she embraced her gently, trying to inspire Ahlane with little hope and courage.


M19-4     When everything was ready, Ghethe ordered the military engineers to open the gate.
     “Korta Mortek: come out,” said Ghethe in a blank, equal voice.
     Mortek started moving before he intended to. When he was out of the Control Room, an energy barrier stopped him until the gate closed behind him.
     Ghethe ordered, “Walk five steps ahead, Mortek.”
     Mortek executed the command, therefore he entered inside a perimeter surrounded by powerful energy frames where Ghethe was waiting for him. Mortek had his hands inside his mantle, on his lasers. As soon as he was through the energy barrier, he brought the lasers up and started a continuous fast pulsed-fire at Ghethe.
     Ghethe made no gestures to defend himself, and the laser shield of his armor had no problems protecting him. After a while, Ghethe raised his right hand with the palm facing Mortek, then both Mortek’s arms went broken in an instant. Ghethe took care that the fractures did not overwhelm Mortek with pain, because he needed him conscious for a while longer. Mortek dropped the lasers, he dropped down on his knees, then he begged for mercy and began crying.
     Ghethe searched briefly through his memories, then ordered, “Korta Mortek, you shall confess all your crimes now.”
     Mortek started speaking . . .

     When he was finished, Ghethe sentenced him, “Korta Mortek, you have betrayed your Emperor, the citizens you swore to protect, and all imperial officers under your command. You have tainted your uniform, and the memory of your hero father.
     You have collaborated to the crime of Genocide, therefore I, the Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division, sentence you to death. You shall die of pain and of fears, and you shall have sufficient time to regret all your miserable crimes. Take him!” The Guards rushed to get hold of Mortek.
     Ghethe ordered again to open the gate, then said, “Dembrah Velkon: come out.”

     Dr. Velkon came outside the Control Room, and he waited patiently for the energy barrier to drop. Next, he went straight ahead until he touched with his right hand the surrounding energy wall—his hand contained the energy converter. In the left hand, Dr. Velkon had the custom built, hand-held field disruptor which was taking the energy supplied by the energy converter and projected it in the form of terrible electrostatic discharges along a disrupted spatial-path.
     Ghethe watched Dr. Velkon’s preparations attentively. He knew his intentions, and even the specifications of his weapons from his mind, therefore he allowed him to send a first discharge against his armor. The electrostatic shock had been terrible. Almost half of his systems went inoperative, but the armor held well because it had a high degree of protection against electrostatics, and it was also capable of restoring quickly spatial integrity on its surface.
     After testing the efficiency of Dr. Velkon’s custom built weapons, Ghethe raised his right hand and Dr. Velkon froze. Slowly, the hand with the field disruptor moved, against his will, towards his own head, and it stopped there without firing. Dr. Velkon struggled and prayed to have the power to fire the disruptor, but he had no control over the muscles of his body. After a while, the hand with the disruptor turned towards his left foot and fired once. The foot was perforated by the powerful electrostatic discharge, and Dr. Velkon went down in great pain, dropping both weapons.
     Ghethe took care that his pain settled at an endurable level, then he started searching systematically through Dr. Velkon’s memories. In the end, Ghethe ordered him to confess his crimes.

     Those horrendous confessions lasted longer than Mortek’s. When they were over, Ghethe sentenced him, “Dembrah Velkon, you have betrayed your fellow Scientists who have elected you Imperial Chief Scientist; you have betrayed the trust of the Imperial Council of the Scientists; you have betrayed your Emperor; and you have committed the abominable crime of Genocide. You killed nineteen billion lives of innocent children, defenseless old people, and wonderful women and men for your miserable ambitions.
     I, the Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division, sentence you to death. You shall die of pain and of fears, and your name shall be forever remembered in the History of our Civilization as the most execrable criminal. You wanted power and glory, Dembrah, and you got shame forever, because I will make it a Law that no child of the Empire shall ever grow an adult without seeing and hearing your criminal confessions. Take him!”

     Ghethe took some time to prepare for the next confrontation. He checked his armor. The majority of the damaged systems were back, working on the cold reserve circuitry. The laser and plasma shield functioned at only fifty-seven parts per unit of fighting capacity, though he considered that it was sufficient for the following actions.
He ordered the gate to open again, then said, “Hetan Sellon: come out.”
     As soon as he was out of the Control Room, Great Hurda rushed to send a telepathic signal directed to his people to come and rescue him. He had about ninety thousand highly trained Qual soldiers and Suta Priests hidden in secret places throughout the Palace; without power, however, most of them were trapped inside their hideouts.
     Some of his troops received the signal, and they did manage, somehow, to leave their bunkers. They started fighting with Imperial Guards, though they had no chance of achieving anything because the Guards were well prepared for action, and they had excellent strategic positions: it was a massacre!

     Great Hurda waited for some time to see the anemic effects of his command, while Ghethe monitored his intentions carefully; therefore, he caught him in good time. Great Hurda intended to send a telepathic signal of detonation directed to thousands of mines and explosive charges scattered throughout the Palace, each equipped with a tiny power source and a neuro-telepathic amplifier. Many of the mines and explosive charges had already been detected by the Guards and made inoperative, though very many remained undetected. Ghethe wiped away all the memories Great Hurda had about the destruction of the Palace.
     Great Hurda had the hood of his robe down, therefore his face was clearly visible: it was the ordinary face of an old man of the Qual race, except his green eyes were bulbous with a maddening fear. His body was shaking so violently that Ghethe had to calm him down with a strong mental suggestion.
     He searched through Hurda’s memories for a long time, then he ordered the man to confess his crimes. Those confessions were about past and future personal ambitions, about horrible crimes, miserable treacheries, and racism!

     When Great Hurda ended confessing, Ghethe said, “Hetan Sellon—also known as Great Hurda of the Qual System—you have betrayed the Imperial Treaties your people have signed and they have pledged to abide by, voluntarily. You have committed the terrible crime of Genocide, with the intention to conquer and to impose slavery throughout the Imperial Worlds.
     I, the Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division, sentence you to death. You shall die of pain and of fears—”
     “How? Tell me exactly what are you going to do to me!” cried Great Hurda looking terrified.
     Ghethe explained in an impassive voice, “You shall die like all others from your group of criminals. I shall modify a few cells inside your body, and that will condition your organism to start consuming the protective sheath, then the insulation of your nerves, starting from the periphery of your nervous system. I shall implant a few reflex suggestions inside your subconscious, so that you will have no power to end your life, or to kill the others, and you will not be able to remember that you ever had any mental powers.
     I assume that all of you are going to live for about twenty-seven i-std. days in terrible pains, before the nerves controlling your vital organs would cease to function. This is the hardest known punishment, since it is similar to being burned alive for many days. In addition, due to the terrible pain you shall have to endure, your brain will deteriorate rapidly, therefore it will lose the capacity to function normally: you shall know only fears—”
     “What about my people?” interrupted Great Hurda with desperation.
     “The Suta Priest and the Archea League shall be eradicated, and they will cease to exist. The people living in the Qual System are going to be taken away and abandoned on a deserted Planet, completely isolated. They will have to restart your history beginning with chopping the stone.”
     “You cannot do that! It is a racist act! It is the destruction of a Civilization and it is against your moral!” protested Great Hurda, and big tears started dripping from his bulging eyes.
     “You have already destroyed a Civilization way better than yours, and you have committed Genocide. You planned to impose slavery, and to start racial cleansing throughout Imperial Worlds. All your people are going to hear your miserable confessions, and I shall offer to them the chance to live, though far away from the civilized Worlds you have betrayed. This is the judgment of the Imperial Law.”
     “But the Empire—”
     “Enough! Take him!”

     Ghethe took some time to prepare psychically, because he knew that all his efforts up to that point were useless if he failed in the following confrontation. He instructed the Probes to start firing at his next opponent if he loses his reflex mental signal, and then he told Vatano to kill the man if the Probes began firing. For both Commanders, he named Ahlane as his successor to the General Command.
     Once finished with all strategic preparations, he checked the interface to his subconscious for responsiveness, then he induced himself into a deep relaxation condition. Ghethe was thinking of nothing, he had no desires, no hopes, and he was feeling absolutely nothing . . .
     When his relaxation reached the optimum level, he ordered the gate to open, then said, “Gerak Santrem: come out.”
     Gerak Santrem was waiting and hoping for that moment for a long time: a direct confrontation with Ghethe Dakka! Gerak had suggested his partners to fight with whatever weapons they possessed, although he knew that none of them had sufficient resources to bring the man down. He was confident he was stronger than Ghethe Dakka because the people in the Gentle Empire were pathetically weak, in terms of mental powers, compared to the people from Free Worlds. Besides, he was the strongest Dolg-Djaben ever!
     His plan was simple, and he put it together since he had heard the news about the wonder ship, Arpel. He considered that it was possible, somehow, that Ghethe Dakka would manage to escape the technological trap and to free his women. If that possibility became a reality, at judgment time Gerak would attack with all his might. He was going to subdue Ghethe Dakka, and then he would take possession of Imperial Fleet, of Imperial Guards, of the entire Gentle Empire, of the woman Ahlane and of the amazing spaceships; in other words, he would get EVERYTHING!
     Even more, the genius addition to his plan was, it also eliminated all the other powers of the Qualosa Guild without any extra efforts!

     When Gerak came out the Control Room, he was surrounded by such a strong mental field that the air was waving around him in a golden iridescence. The alien had the hood of his cloak lowered, therefore his face was perfectly visible. His head was entirely hairless and proportional to his medium-height body. The color of his skin was white-gray, and his eyes had gray irises with vertical black pupils, within a normal eye shape.
     Excepting those striking eyes, his face was in fact nice, and Ghethe couldn’t help noticing that there was a great difference between Gerak and his sister, Vara. Gerak’s facial features were delicate in shape: his nose was small and coming straight from the forehead down; the mouth was proportional and nicely shaped, with dark-gray lips; his ears were very small, barely visible. Considering his face, Gerak appeared to be in his thirties, with a delicate physical constitution, though Ghethe knew that Gerak was incredibly strong psychically, and he was well over seventy i-std. years old.

     “Now, Ghethe Dakka, it is between you and I. Frankly, I am terribly curious if you dare fighting with the strongest Dolg-Djaben ever!” transmitted Gerak telepathically.
     He waited for an answer for a while, though he received none, therefore he understood that his opponent was studying him. Gerak commenced preparing for a mental fight. He connected the tips of his fingers, he initiated the mental shield-stasis, then he rushed towards Ghethe a dreadful, gigantic, overwhelming wave of mental flux!


M19-8     On Arpel, everybody was watching the development of the fights. Nobody talked, and each one was frightened by the final outcome. They had eleven different camera views, including the one on Ghethe’s spacesuit, and Arpel was recording all the sounds and images, including any telepathic conversation he could sense. All of them were tense, and their muscles made involuntary spasms triggered by dangerous and unexpected situations displayed on their projections. Their internal tension reached a maximum when the fight with Gerak started, although it was impossible to understand what happened in reality.
     The distance between Ghethe and Gerak was about nine i-std. steps. Gerak was surrounded by a faint, shimmering, diffuse yellow light, and a small brilliant and lively orange flame appeared suddenly between his palms with the fingers forming a tiny cage. Ghethe was standing in a relaxed position, and nothing extraordinary could be seen on his side. Both Ghethe and Gerak had their heads bent down, as if they were fighting with their foreheads.
     Slowly, very slowly, the halo of yellow light surrounding Gerak began extending towards Ghethe, and Ahlane went on crying silently . . .


M19-9     Gerak was far more powerful than Ghethe, except his powers were chaotically spread, while Ghethe was capable of focusing all his powers towards a single purpose. It was a mute, terrible fight which lasted for more than one i-std. hour, although to each fighter it seemed only a few moments. Both of them were wasting enormous amounts of the hidden, though incredibly straining mental flux.
     Ghethe was thankful for his armor neuro-telepathic circuitry which allowed him to transform the energy from the power units into the mental one. That extra energy was insignificant in magnitude, compared to the mental energy Ghethe used in each moment. However, that little extra energy, and a program run by the intelligent circuits of his helmet, helped building tens of deceiving targets for Gerak, in the form of illusory active nerves, and nervous ganglions. Ghethe’s goal was to determine Gerak to waste his colossal powers and, most important, to distract his attention.

     Gerak was ripping and slicing any nervous fascicule he could grab, while looking for Ghethe’s center of mental powers: he was looking for it feverishly, because he wasn’t able to find it! That had never happened to Gerak before. He reasoned that Ghethe Dakka had a special mind shield which made him perfectly invisible, in terms of mental activity.
     Still, Gerak was confident on his powers since he felt he was entirely dominant. Even if he couldn’t find, for the time being, Ghethe’s center of mental powers, he sensed no activity coming from Ghethe, as if the man was incapable of making any significant mental move. From time to time Gerak managed to discover a nervous fascicle, or a nervous ganglion, and he tore everything to shreds quickly.

     Ghethe lured Gerak to believe he was close to his spinal cord, while he advanced inconspicuously through the uncontrolled mental attack until he reached the surface of Gerak’s brain. There, he discovered an impenetrable, live, mental shield protecting Gerak’s mind, which appeared to be generated from a source located outside of his brain!
     Ghethe had to find some additional resources to look for that external source of mental powers, while maintaining the previously gained position. After a while, Ghethe discovered the information he needed right from his own visual sensors. He had neglected the optic information because the fight between him and Gerak was centered deep inside their minds, at the border between conscious and subconscious.
     The source of the impenetrable external mental shield used to protect Gerak’s brain was obviously coming from the flickering orange flame between Gerak’s fingers. That was such a stunning reverse-action psychokinetic technique that Ghethe could not believe it was real! He felt a strong desire to study that external brain shield procedure, only it was so fantastically strange, and so powerful, that he decided it was also very dangerous to let himself distracted; therefore, he should better end that fight as soon as possible.
     Ghethe brought both his hands in front of him with the palms facing Gerak. Moments later, Gerak’s body began to ascend slowly . . .


M19-10     In the Main Salon everybody seemed frozen, and they had stopped breathing. The fight with Gerak had lasted for more than one i-std. hour, and Ghethe was completely surrounded by the shimmering yellow light emanating from Gerak. They saw Ghethe moving his arms with the palms facing Gerak, and then Gerak started to ascend!


M19-11     Gerak did not sense the movement of his body. After a while, however, he realized that his mind had a different spatial vector towards Ghethe’s spinal nervous flux—which was also very well protected by an incredible, almost invisible mental shield. Gerak was confident that, if he managed to penetrate the spinal shield, he would understand its nature, and then he would also discover the invisible mental shield protecting Ghethe’s brain.
     He opened his eyes, and then he had only a slight spasm of surprise when he became aware of his position, suspended high above the floor. His fingers lost their touch for a fraction of time, and that moment was everything Ghethe needed: he penetrated the weaker mental shield, then he disabled Gerak’s center of mental powers with a paralyzing, self short-circuiting mental energy discharge!
     The man dropped brutally on the ground, and he remained there unconscious. It took him a long time to recover, while Ghethe searched his lifetime memories in details.

     “I lost my powers! You were stronger!” exclaimed Gerak in disbelief when he regained control of himself. He added, “This is not possible!”
     Ghethe started in his blank, impassive voice, “Gerak Santrem, you have committed the gruesome crime of instigation to Genocide, with the intention to conquer and to enslave all Imperial Worlds. I, the Imperial Chief Investigator of the Science Division, sentence you to death. You shall die of pain and of fears—”
     “You cannot condition me! I AM STRONGER THAN YOU!” shouted Gerak. He could not understand why Ghethe Dakka was well, relaxed, without any harm after all that terrible fight, while he had absolutely no powers left! He felt he was completely undressed, and he had a sick feeling that Ghethe Dakka was rambling through his mind at his own pace. That thought brought a lot of fear inside his soul, which he had never experienced before!
     “. . . you shall have no mental powers, and you shall not remember you ever had any—” continued Ghethe, and his impassive voice resonated inside Gerak’s brain like the merciless verdict of the Great Destiny itself!
     “Wait! Please be merciful, Ghethe Dakka, and tell me only one thing: was I stronger than you?” asked Gerak with desperation. He began suspecting that Ghethe Dakka was capable of defeating even the famous Kudalen Masters, and then all the priceless values of the Free Worlds would disappear, following the Gentle Empire conquest . . . A DECEIVING GENTLE EMPIRE! He heard Ghethe’s words as coming from a nightmare, from inside of his own brain.
     “You have abandoned the Kudalen codes of moral behavior for a long time, and you have no honor left, Gerak Santrem. Therefore, you do not deserve an answer from me. Take him!”
     Ghethe pronounced his words without any feelings, then he applied the punishment. He ordered that all the convicted people to be taken into the trap-enclosure; to be given sufficient provisions to live for about forty-five i-std. days; to make certain there was sufficient ventilation; and then the gates to be closed and sealed. He personally supervised all preparations, to ensure they were performed precisely according to his orders.

     Once the job was properly ended, Ghethe turned towards Commander Vatano and asked, “Commander, can you defeat the Qual forces, and bring the entire Qual System under total control with the Guards you have?”
     “If I have nine Super Destroyers and twenty-seven Destroyers for logistic support, transport, and surveillance, yes, Sir—easily.”
     “Listen to this, Commander. You will ask the Qual forces to surrender, and you will attack only if they refuse. All weaponry, communications, transportation, and all dangerous technologies shall be completely destroyed. This System must be rendered secure. I am going to let you have thirty-six Super Destroyers, and one hundred eight Destroyers. I want you to consult your strategies with the Fleet Commanders, although you shall have the Supreme Command over this System.
     Take your time and do not rush into action, Commander, because my intention is to subdue the Qual System without losing any more lives of our people, starting this moment. No information should leave this System, and any ship that approaches shall be confiscated and quarantined until further orders. I want all Suta Priests exterminated, but the general population should be treated with clemency, if they cooperate; otherwise, wipe out any resistance.
     You shall move all Qual people from the space-cities to Qualosa. Move all people from Qualosa on one isolated continent, where they can be easily supervised. You shall destroy anything that may be used as a weapon on Qualosa. Tell the Qual people that only total obedience may save their race, and show them Hurda’s confessions.
     All the valuables of this System belong to the New Empire, and you shall take them into custody, Vatano. They are going to be used, in part, to repay the debts the New Empire has towards Imperial Guards and Imperial Fleet. Keep a permanent contact with Commander Kolwan, and report to him daily. You have my permission to ask for any additional help from the Fleet, in case of need, and do not hesitate to ask for it. Again, our first priority during this action is the lives of our people. Is everything perfectly clear to you, Vatano?”
     “Yes, Sir. I shall carry on exactly the way you want it, Sir,” promised Commander Vatano.

     Ghethe returned to Arpel, then he issued orders for the Fleet to separate: a small group remained in the Qual System to continue the fights under Commander Vatano’s orders, while the bulk of the Fleet was going to regroup around the Batlan Planet and wait there for further orders. When he finished instructing both Commanders, Ghethe told Arpel to take them back to Thalo Three.

     Finally, he took his helmet off, and Ahlane could see his face again, after many i-std. days of desperation. It was the face she had seen before, though a lot more dour, and his eyes had the same impersonal look as imperial soldiers when they were on duty. Ahlane asked him shyly if it was over, and Ghethe watched her for a long time, until his looks found a focus in her crystal clear irises.
     He managed to sketch a faint smile, then said, “It is over, Ahlane. There is a lot of work ahead for us, but the great, imminent threat is gone.”
     “Are you going to take your armor off, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane with fears in her eyes.
     “Of course, My Dear. I am sorry if I scared you, but . . . it has been very . . . very hard,” said Ghethe hesitantly, and Ahlane was glad to see his face losing the immobility, and to hear again some tones of the voice she knew.
     “It has been impossible, Ghethe. I still cannot believe that you won . . . you alone . . . and we are all alive,” said Ahlane while struggling to hold back her tears.
     He replied in a tired voice, “I need little rest, Ahlane.”
     “Let me help you to your bed, Ghethe, then I shall watch your sleep,” promised Ahlane.
     “Thank you, My Dear. You have no idea how well I sleep knowing that you are safe, near me,” confessed Ghethe with a timid smile.
     It was obvious he was exhausted. She helped him to his suite, and then to remove his armor by disregarding many of the privacy rules. Ghethe went on sleeping in his bed for the first time since her abduction. He fell asleep immediately, holding well Ahlane’s little hand with both his hands, as if scared of losing her.
     Ahlane waited for him to be well asleep, then she kissed his hands, and started crying silently. She was crying of relief and of gratitude that the long and terrible nightmare was over, for all of them.



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