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  1. Wolf's Daughter - Ch.II by Pakkrat II. The echoes of her clicking heels followed Joo Li, or 'Julie' as her friendlier peers like to name her, into the docking hangar of Swooping Eagle Planet's Yasuragi Station. She walked briskly, her heart swelled with the mission. It was an opportunity to rise in the ranks and perhaps enter the inner circle of the charismatic Du'Shao Silva. The transmission had been sent to active Shinwa everywhere. The mission was live, its directives clear. Julie recalled the final words of the Du'Shao. *Bring Wolfsdottir to Androzari where she can be kept safe and out of reach of the Sabine Order Reclaimers until we can urge the Jenquarum to call once more to the Progen Republic to pay for what they did to our beloved Jove City, show the galaxy that justice will be done, stop the jihad of the Mordane and bring home the Malefari. Then we will rise again as a true power in the galaxy.* No more hiding behind the protections of Sol Security or flying hidden under cloaking fields, appealed to Julie. With the capture of this girl, this AWOL Wolfsdottir, the Progen would not be able to deny the atrocities and war crimes. With the galactic public opinion swinging back to the Jenquai, bolstered by SolSec and splattered across the news nets, the Progen would be forced to halt their warmachine long enough to pay for their heinous sins. Ken'shao Joo Li addressed the Shinwa Jenquai Defenders who waited in a line for her orders. She was dressed in form-fitting leathers, feminine lamellar armor, and a light tunic of shimmering black silk. Her black hair was rolled and pinned with very sharp pins. A short-sword *wakizashi* curved along the small of her back horizontally just above her hips and hanging from her utility belt. She straightened to full height in formal and official declaration. "Shinwa! Defenders! Our mission is clear, peaceful, and will have wide-ranging effect across the galaxy if we are successful. And succeed we shall. Yet we must proceed swift and silent or lose our prey. The capture of the AWOL Defender, Wolfsdottir is top priority. She is a security threat until returned home. The entirety of the Shinwa are mobilized to this directive. We shall not fail." There were salutes, vows, and cheers as the pilots responded each to their liking. Julie let them bolster their patriotic and racial pride. Then she clapped her thinly gloved hands and pointed to the array of docked Jenquai Defender craft in the hangar, "To your ships! Honor to the Shinwa!" There was movement and soon entire wings of Defenders were undocked and issuing from Yasuragi Station into the skies above the lush and green of Swooping Eagle Planet. Leather on leather creaked as Ken'shao Joo Li settled into her own Defender's cockpit bridge. She whispered to her ship's computer which was keyed to listen to whispered commands. "Reactor online, engines start, engage devices and exit." * * * Across the galaxy and above the fiery rivers of flowing magma stood the towering Porvenir Mons on Endriago Planet. It was a spaceport station and home to the Progen Sabine Sentinels. From its red metal towers issued many Progen men and women running swiftly across the tarmac platforms to lines of docked spacecraft. Power umbilical lines were being detached by platform crews. One man watched as the Sabine Order mobilized. Magister Caius Hellstrom, Reclaimer of the Sabine Order walked from the observation deck as ship after ship of Sabine Sentinels unfurled their armored sails, lit their engines and swung about to make for the gate to planetary orbit. He was a huge, muscular Progen man, of quite a few iterations since his first birth during the Scouring of Terra. He had in each life served with distinction as a soldier, a diplomat, a scientist and a weapons maker before the cessation of the disenfranchised Collegia Forgemasters. Now in this iteration, due to a weapons mishap at the Romulus Cannon in Mars sector, he had answered the Call Forward to serve as a Reclaimer and Caius meant to distinguish himself to Vinda and join with her Magisters Magna. Hellstrom recalled the orders handed to him on a data tablet by Magister Constantinus. *It has been confirmed that there is a theft of high-security genes from the Progen Republic. We have a confession from an inmate of Detention Center Onorom. A Jenquai Defender who goes by the name of Wolfsdottir has them. She is to be captured and sent there for processing. Should she fail to surrender, the Defender is to be Reclaimed however you see fit. Now go.* Thus, Caius Hellstrom made for his vessel, the Helldiver, a Sabine Sentinel craft same as the others before his departure. It was a proud Progen red with angry orange and yellow flamed hull and wings with copper sails. Against the flowing glow from the rivers of fire, the vessel looked a spawn of Earth's mythical Hell itself. As his vessel powered up and its engines revved up, he mused as he slugged Pro-Vod vodka, "I hope I am there when she refuses to surrender, the little bitch." Hellstrom wanted the kill. He wanted to be the one to slam the girl's head on the desk of Constantinus and in front of Vinda. It was Vinda he wanted to impress, not just her right-hand man. If this girl were so important, why did Constantinus not lead this force himself? Bureaucratic coward. Caius then decided that he could rise the ladder and stand beside the one woman in the entire Progen Republic that Hellstrom found worthy of applying for procreation permissions. He lusted for Vinda. * * * Pakkratius knew that she had spotted him following her sectors of space ago. His freshly-painted, glossy-white and sailed ship was not easily missed in the inky black of Blackbeard's Wake. It then stood out like an advertisement outpost against the drab Inverness sector. She was leading him into Terran space on purpose to confirm that he was following her. Even a scan-blinded Centuriata could spot his *Culler* contrasting the nebulous green of Aganju, 61Cygni. The Sentinel was at the apex of his career and the engines and systems modifications he had collected over the years would allow him to overtake the girl's Defender. She had to be into her second career trimester, as fast as her ship was moving. At warp she still hugged nav 'corners' like she was in a race. Pakkratius asked himself, could she be testing him? With such a remote locale, she might turn on him with those DigiApogee beam weapons out here where none would care that a Sentinel and a Defender tangled, so long as the rest of the Crystal Age was not upset by a solitary altercation. But the *Warchild*, the girl's vessel, swerved and continued at its maximum warp. It's warp cone was a proud pink and purple as it bent space around it. His own *Culler* merely hummed along behind her, the engine calmly awaiting orders to go to maximum warp. But the Doctor did not want to overtake the Defender. She was behaving just as he wanted. Though this was Terran space, it was a frontier and that's how Pakkratius wanted it. Over his shoulders in the bridge-like cockpit's darkness, the many systems and devices glowed, pulsed, and even to some extent lived in their cradles, conduit attachments, and mounts. The darkness of his cockpit was in opposition to the sterile white of the ship's exterior. The deck floor was swath with cables, power conduits, connectors, network lines, coolant tubes. In all and in the dimness, they made the vessel look as if serpents lived in the Sabine Sentinel. Each device was an ornament to the darkness, a decoration to the inhumanity each represented. As strange and alien each was to the pilot and to each other, captured and coupled to the Progen vessel, the marriage was a technological nightmare. Yet it worked and he made sure it worked well. Each ancient artifact, AI-designed device, necromantic bio-weapon, and prototype system from various corners of the galaxy had been gathered with care and secrecy by many who had no clue what they brought to the thankful Sabine Doctor of the Call Forward. The collection was an unholy temple to inhumanity. In this arcane way, Dr. Pakkratius was quite sure he could hold his own should the Warchild stop and turn on the *Culler*. Here in Aganju, 61Cygni A, a battle would be glossed over by the local Terran authorities as just another battle between some Psis and Terrans, a hunt for nommos biologicals, or another challenger to the presence of Warship Genesis, the ever-present Progen captial ship of none other than Trimarch Anjuren Kahn. Yet that day the girl looked at his offered hand, refused with a sneer and picked herself off the deck of Paramis station, he admired her for self-sufficiency and determination at such a young age. The *Warchild* was deep into Aganju sector when it slowed to impulse and turned to face the following *Culler*. The Defender ship trained its weapons on the incoming Sentinel. Pakkratius was almost caught over-shooting her position, but he had dis-engaged his warp drive just in time to put the two vessels bow to bow in space. His short range communications lit up. She was hailing him. Putting on his best news anchor smile, Pakkratius answered the hail, "Dr. Pakkratius of the Sabine Order Sentinel ship *Culler*. How can I help you?' Her voice was young, clipped, and she chose small words. "What are you doing, Progen? Are you following me?" the image of Wolfsdottir asked. "Oh," Pakkratius tried to act surprised. "Was I following too closely?" "For three whole sectors, Progen," the girl answered. "You itchin' for a fight or something? Can't find a better target for your explorer ship?" "Far from it," answered the Sentinel. "I am a correspondent for Net-7 News. I'd like to interview you as you seem so interesting." It was a half-truth, but he had very little time to think of how to approach her properly. "Pakkratius, Anchor for Net-7 News, how do you do?" "I don't watch the news," she said, her face betraying impatience. "Well, the news watches you and the rest of the galaxy," said Pakkratius. "Can we find a station where I won't have to pick you up off the deck so we can have an interview?" The girl seemed to consider the Reporter's offer for a few seconds. Just as Pakkratius was becoming hopeful, the Jenquai said, "No." Somewhat dejected but not put out entirely, the Sentinel asked why. "I'm busy." It was a lie given what Pakkratius had gleaned about her. "Come now," he pleaded, "surely there's something very interesting about you that I could learn, yes?" Wolfsdottir's smile was not one of a girl who had just been complimented. It was a smile that held an idea to shake off the white Sentinel following her Defender ship. One of her hands came up to wave goodbye to Pakkratius while the other engaged a control off-screen in her cockpit bridge. The computer's voice came over the comm connection, "Cloaking engaged." The *Warchild* began to shimmer into reflectivity, fading from view as it bent all light and radiations about its hull. The effect made her vessel at first a visual distortion before melding with the depths of emerald Aganju space behind it. Fully cloaked after a few seconds, it was gone from sight and sensors. He assumed Wolfsdottir would creep away at impulse, so Pakkratius had time to react, "Oh no you don't. I've never lost a good story yet." The Agrippa Technologies Skirmish Omega, though always active was passively sitting ready in the back of the bridge, connected to the promethean Unabating Fire engine and awaiting activation of its full capabilities. Pakkratius, a graduate of Agrippa Tech's strange curriculum and maze-work of bureaucracy, had built this signature defensive shield himself as a final exam to the Collegia-backed research and development company's core systems courses. He had ground down months of applications, testing, gopher transit many times across known human space to enter Agrippa's line of prototype technologies. The coursework was a maddening trek through the minds of not only Imperator Agrippa, but also the subordinate female clones called the Architechti. But in the end, the shield, its plans and lesser variations were his to use. Now it sat in a shield cradle-mount on the bridge of the Culler. The Doctor reached back and levered the switch corresponding to the Skirmish Omega. Power flowed from the reactor through the *Culler* to the shield core system. Instantly the hex-grid view ports of his ship glowed along their lines a deep red, meshing in synchronicity with the shield matrix. He scanned his immediate area again and found the *Warchild* already several clicks and leaving. Though the Jenquai Defender's cloaking systems were impressive, its neutrino fields bending all radiation around its sleek hull and hiding it from all visual, aural, and electromagnetic bands; it could not deny that still had mass. The new gravitic calibrations of the Skirmish Omega to the ship's sensors picked up the tiny gravity well of the small ship and its space-bending wake as it retreated from the Sentinel ship. Pakkratius wheeled his sailed vessel around and impulse thrust in order to catch up with her. "You don't get to sneak off from Net-7 New-..." Pakkratius was cut off from finishing his declaration when his ship's shields lit up from several direct strikes from various beams. His proximity alarm rang and he silenced it to check his radar. Another volley of beams struck his shields, rocking the *Culler*. Having to turn from the *Warchild* to defend himself, Pakkratius faced the threats while counting their number. It was quickly clear it was seven to his one. The strangely-modified Terran designs darted at the Sentinel from the frozen ice asteroids floating this deep into Aganju sector. Perhaps, he thought, these Terrans wanted to break up the standoff between him and Wolfsdottir? He had little time as the bogeys fired a third time, testing his defenses from different angles. "Um, a little help here, Jenquai," Pakkratius called as his ship's Repulsor Field came online to serve up some retribution to the attackers. He began thrusting his own impulse maneuvers to single out a target. His mix of projectile weaponry hammered, spat, gauss-ed, and blazed its ordinance at the first target. * * * Dot saw the ambush in her rear view monitor. The white Sentinel was in some danger though her sensors showed that the Culler's shields were still holding for now. If only he would just freewarp away, though the ex-Defender. *Might be good sport*, thought another part of Wolfsdottir. *He needs help*, answered the former Sev Tushnim. The girl scanned the attackers with her Sundari Telescopium device. Details on the attackers soon arrived. Coupled with her tactical training as a Jenquai Defender, her term of service with the Sev Tushnim, and seeing the analysis on her targeting monitor, Dot was able to identify the darting ships assaulting the Progen. The database called the former Terran drones 'Outlings', mysteriously similar to mining-robot ships. These however were emitting something she knew the Pakkratius in the *Culler* was ignorant. These drone ships were speaking to each other mentally. They used no radio nor tight-beam communications. They were thinking to each other! In her education, though she had no gift of it herself, Dot had learned to be sensitive to telepathic Jenquai who thought first and spoke afterwards. No telepath was she, but many times she had conversed with telepaths contacting her politely. By holding thought answers in her mind, Dot had learned to listen and communicate after receiving telepathic sendings, much as she had done aboard Paramis Station recently. The synchronicity of all the telepathic minds in the seven drone Outlings was unnerving and inhuman. They thought and communicated as one. Glancing at her scanners again, Dot registered no signs of heartbeat nor other signs of human physiognomy. Yet these drones were telepathically communicating in a neural network of thought! The Progen was in danger. These drones, weak as they were individually with mere focused mining lasers, were acting in perfect coordination as they swarmed his ship. Wolfsdottir's first reaction was one aligned with the We Who Serve In Silence, that is to help unconditionally those in need. But Dot had done her time, served her fair share. Now that she was Kaojin, this should not matter to her. It was simple law of the black depths of space that this Progen would fall prey somewhere, sometime. Besides, this was unreal and *maya*. She should remain detached from others' plight. In addition, this was her chance to fully escape the Reporter if she just kept quiet and moved on. A stargate was nearby. If she stayed cloaked, the drones might miss her and she could seek egress to the next connected sector of space. Wolfsdottir found herself torn on what to do. Would he let her go her way if she helped him? He had asked her for help. He could have broadcast a request for aid,but did not. He did not want help from the sector's Terran population. He wanted her help. And the Progen was polite enough to say 'please'. Dot had never before hesitated this long in deciding between her experience in the Sev Tushnim and her new found freedom as a fledgling Kaojin. She was still a Defender, despite her quitting the Shinwa. She sighed in resignation. It was the remembered offer of his helping hand back at Paramis that won her. Dot swung her cloaked vessel around and engaged in the battle with the Outling drones. As she approached the swarming ships, she focused her will through another onboard system in the *Warchild*. The system responded by channelling that will through the ship's shield projectors with a boost of energy from the reactor. A dodecahedral field of blue, shell-like energy expanded outward from her ship and enveloped it completely just beyond the Defender's shields. This not only spoiled her stealthy cloak, but the psionic energies caught the attention of the Outlings. The first and nearest Outling to turn on her got a full dose of her ship's prototype plasma beams. The smoking lines of plasma lit up the smallish drones with energy that then behaved like matter upon striking their shields. Energy crackled and rippled over the Outlings. As her beams cycled to recharge for another volley, Dot took time to check on the Progen. The white, sailed vessel's attackers swung to face the new psionic threat, a Jenquai Defender. She assumed they must have been attracted to psionic-focusing systems to suddenly be interested in her. "You're not going anywhere," came the voice of the Pakkratius. A black and brown, dissonant pulse emanated from his Sentinel ship's sails to culminate into a thick beam that lanced outward to strike the nearest Outling bearing down on the *Warchild*. Instantly a gravity well paralyzed the drone in a field of immobility. The amplified mass of the drone's hull was too much for its engines to compensate and so the drone merely drifted where it was. Though it could spin on its axes, the main engines for the Outlings were temporarily useless to push the bulk of its mass. The white Sentinel ship continued hammering the drones that had turned their aft sections to him in interest of the psionic shell over the Jenquai Defender. "So you are hungry for the gifted, yes?" Dot asked the attackers who were flexing their claw manipulators and firing their mining beams. Her third set of beams tore into the first paralyzed attacker and it melted instantly at the touch of too much plasma in contact with its engines already at maximum impulse. The engine tore loose from the molten hull and shot off past the Defender as she spun to target the next Outling. It was then she felt the mind inside the Outling 'die'. Its mental sendings merely ceased in mid-thought as its hull broke down at the molecular level throughout its structure. Its presence in the neural network of minds was hardly missed as the others continued to close. Mining beams flashed as she listened to their sendings. *Psionic mind detected. Liberate it at once and add it to our own.* That directive did not conceptualize well as she saw their intentions to remove her brain to a preservation case and implant it into a newly created drone. That is what the network of minds meant by 'liberate'. The sending concept was fast but it, in translation to Dot, unpacked itself into a full meaning. Considering the intent behind it, the Defender did not like that one bit. *Save it, preserve it, liberate it.* Before the last drone could fire a second beam at the Defender's Psionic shell, its aft shields collapsed and was penetrated by many impact rounds of the *Culler's* huge projectile cannons. Dot had seen more than a few times the devastating power of Progen weaponry. But this Sentinel was not using Progen technology in its guns as far as she could tell. The Pakkratius was sporting four very non-Progen projectiles. As they tore into the Outling and ripped at its hull, she marveled at the power behind them. Rather than stopping to cycle, the Sabine merely swung the arcing trajectory of ordinance over to the nearest drone target. The varied plasma rounds, caustic chemical rounds, and slamming impact rounds began work on the next victim. Two of the cannons on the *Culler*, for she had read the white ship's name, were strange amalgamation of flesh, scales, bone tube materials, and repeatedly spat an amber globule surrounding a dart-like crystal tooth at its target. Another weapon hissed black and purple rounds from its fat and short muzzle. On its side was a skull and crossbones motif image, the classical symbol of pirates. Last of the four weapons was a multi-barrelled machine that streamed an eager line of crystal shards coated with a thin, streaming haze of purple plasma. The variety of weapons coupled with a mix of ordinance was utterly with out pattern in Dot's eyes. This Progen was hardly using Progen systems at all as far as the Defender could tell. The combination was alien to the ex-Shinwa. To her it lacked all symmetry, form, rhyme or reason. Yet the weaponry tore into the second drone in seconds and shattered another 'dying' Outling. Just as the swarming few drones left began to shatter her Psionic shell, Dot's beams spoke again, a screaming and searing tear of energy-matter called plasma. Her weaponry did not rely on the need for ammunition. They were powered directly from the onboard reactor. By now, she was passing through their incoming stragglers and advancing to the Pakkratius' ship. Nimble and deftly she dodged the grasping appendages and the lines of the searchlight beams. Lasers went wildly into the night of space. The five remaining swung about again to come face to face with the largest demonic holographic ever projected outside of a Nova Gladiator Games arena. "You remember fear?" yelled the Pakkratius in questioning challenge to the attackers. Dot's mental listening caught the emotional surprise, jolted fear of the projection, and a renewed, almost forgotten experience of panic poisoning the neural network of the five remaining minds. *Flee! Re-group and gather reinforcements!* The mining drones turned as one and sought escape from the menacing projection from the white, sailed ship that had no psionic signature. Towards the fields of ice asteroids they flew in desperate attempt to escape the fearsome space *daemon* that now threatened. Dot noticed that the Reporter ceased his weapons fire and turned on her. "Are you okay?" the Pakkratius asked her over the still-open signal. "Fine," Dot answered now wanting to be quit except for what she knew of the drones' eagerness to return in force and harvest her psionic brain. Watching her shield matrix regenerate, she said, "They're coming back. You need to go." "Smart girl," said the Reporter. "After you, my dear. They did seem to like you more than I after you re-appeared." He was only intending to follow her more, she told herself. He could see her cloaked ship, keep up with her warp speeds, and could withstand far more damage than her *Warchild*. He was not going to leave her alone, Dot decided. Sighing, Dot said, "Annoying Reporter, you can have your stupid interview for all it's worth, if you promise to leave me alone after you do it." "Agreed," came the reply from the Pakkratius. He began to gesture over the image comm, to his right wing position, but Dot cut him off. "I drive," she said flatly. The Pakkratius shrugged and smiled warmly back to her. It was the first time in a long while that anyone had genuinely smiled at her. When his white *Culler* pulled up beside her sleek vessel, she transmitted the signal that 'sung' the nearby stargate to open and activate its wormhole. As the hexagonal rings slid, spun, and flipped into place, Dot spotted another, larger swarm of Outlings issuing forth from the ice asteroid fields. They were closing fast. But then the blue, artificial wormhole fields illuminated the Defender and the Sentinel ships. Slipping into the space-tunnelling fields, the formed vessels left the Outlings swarming the closing rings in Aganju sector, unable to follow. * * * Pakkratius liked not having to 'drive', the act of piloting the lead position in a formation. It allowed him to lock his piloting controls with Wolfsdottir's ship and sit back to watch. She let them through the gate into a sector of 61Cygni named Moto. Moto, as the Doctor perused the sector's history in his onboard computer, was a newer territory within the binary solar system of 61 Cygni. It was much closer to the Cygni B star and hindered with dense nebulae and hazardous, naturally-occurring gravity wells. However, the sector was the corridor between the two halves of the system and a vital passage between the two stars. InfinitiCorp had long laid claim in the name of Terrans to the entirety of 61Cygni, but had yet to completely stake out and make good on their frontier. The megacorporation's chief Terran rival, the Good Earth Trading Company, or GETCo for short, had been quietly left out of any opportunities to expand into 61Cygni. Thus, to settle the score, GETCo had built, using InfinitiGate technologies, a sector gate into Cygni B. They then decided to spice up the system by inviting the Progen Sabine Order to explore that end of the solar system ahead of InfinitiCorp who were still setting up shop in mineral-rich Aganju. Naturally, when the Sabine Order came into contact with InfinitiCorp in Moto, both were surprised to find the other present in what was thought to be a Terran-claimed system. There was fighting which drew in the military wings of both races, namely EarthCorps and the Centuriata. After much failed diplomacy, the corridor zone of Moto became a contested battleground which only seemed to benefit GETCo. InfinitiCorp lost potential territory and never wanted the conflict as did the Sabine Order Sentinels. Now the sector called Moto was a demilitarised zone with entrenched forces still conflicting and pouring more fuel to the fire. Today, neither Terrans or Progen could take advantage of the resources Cygni B had to offer because neither the Centuriata or EarthCorps would stand down. InfinitiCorp kept its stance that the entire system belonged to them, yet saw no profit in retaking and losing a corridor sector repeatedly on a daily basis. The Sabine in turn looked to other interests such as far off Aragoth system at the behest of their leader Vinda. Still the Terrans funded EarthCorps under the flag of the "Terran Alliance". Similarly, the Progen Combine was formed to meet the challenge. The two subsidiaries continued to clash for reasons Net-7 had grown tired of covering on the galactic broadcast. It was rumored that a third party, called the Glenn Commission was drafting a peace compromise proposal. As the *Warchild* and the *Culler* approached the rear camps of Terran fleets, Pakkratius signalled to Wolfsdottir, "You do know where we are, right?" "Moto," Wolfsdottir answered uncaring. "Terrans fighting you Progen. Neither cares about us so long as we don't start shooting too." "Yes, but that is a war-zone, Jenquai," Pakkratius tried to explain. "We can still get hit unintentionally." "You might," the girl answered as she gunned her vessel into higher speeds afforded by the engines and devices in his repertoire. Pakkratius returned to stare ahead at the battling fleets of the Terran Alliance and the Progen Combine. The conflict had already been given a name: the Cygni Wars, though only locally as of yet. The formation was closing fast on the Terran front line. She meant to do it, the Wolfsdottir. Showing no signs of slowing or diverting through the many gravity wells of the spatial corridor, the Defender girl meant to dive right through the ongoing battle. Pakkratius looked at his active devices installed and empowered while the formation came closer and closer. While he was well equipped to handle quite a bit of abuse, his current configuration was skewed for speed of travel, not combat. She could drive a paternal unit to drink, thought the Doctor as he reached for a half-empty bottle of Pro-Vod Vokda. He had started drinking more often after the adventure his clone brother, Pakkrateus had undergone. The first sign of true danger were the streams of projectiles issuing from various classes of ships from the opposing Progen line. It was likened to seeing a living web of ordinance sailing across the distance to pelt Terran ships. Next was the spectacular explosions of huge missiles upon the Progen fleet. Fleet maneuvers were tried as capital ships slid by each other and swarmed by fighters of all classes. *She's trying to get me to break off and turn around*, thought the Pakkratius. "You sure you want to fly through this, girl?" he asked. On the visual link, the white-haired girl looked dead ahead and worked her controls. "I am the folding fan," Wolfsdottir said seemingly more to herself. Ancient oriental music, which could be heard over the comm, played in her cockpit as she began the first of many evasive maneuvers. The Sentinel could only drink and watch with white knuckle grip on his controls as the formation shot through the first areas of the Cygni Wars. As a safety precaution, the Sentinel re-routed some of his reactor power to his Jumpstart capacitors. Probably the only vessel in the sector that could come back online from dereliction, Pakkratius was not in any mood to take chances should the *Culler* become incapacitated. He prayed to Vita Theodora, the Progen mother-in-spirit, that he would not need the precaution. Dives, curving circles, hi-gee swerves, loops, jinking, and Immelman maneuvers shoved the Sentinel every direction in his chair harness. Though in his career the Doctor had added extensive modification to his ship for speed and combat ability, it never ceased to amaze him how maneuverable the Jenquai Defenders were. Unable to go to warp through the battlefield for fear of hitting a capital ship or get mired in a gravity well, the formation had to navigate the conflict at impulse speeds. They had no business in this sector and the battling ships on both sides signalled to the Defender and Sentinel such again and again. The Sabine tried to shrug his shoulders at the vid-comm apologetically, to no avail. Two intruders were likely to become bystander casualties of either side's weaponry. Still, Wolfsdottir flew past the Terran and Progen ships as ordinance exploded all around with tremendous force. One such missile blast, while its ejecta splattered over his vessel's shielding, rattled the plated sails of the Culler. He winced as he looked over to his defensive panel to his right on the bridge. It would take many precious seconds before the Skirmish Omega shield generator could recover and renew its matrix so long as no more hits as big as that one happened. And still the girl drove the formation onward with maniacal turns, swerves, corkscrews and power-dives. Though he had many tangles with space fauna, pirates and entities across the galaxy, the Pakkratius never felt himself a warrior. Far from it, the explorer-class Sentinel saw far more use breaking up asteroids in mining. Thus the combination of maneuvers, watching the battle at the same time and not being fully at the helm was sickening to him. Had he been prepared with the right combination of devices, the Sentinel might weather this maddening passage better. A huge explosion filled the Doctor's view as it illuminated his darkened bridge area. Wolfsdottir did not swerve or pull up and out of its cloud. The Sentinel took a last look at his shield matrix before the formation dived into the billowing plasma. "Warning: Shield matrix at twenty-five percent," came the computer's simulated female voice. Next heard was a crackling and sizzling about the entire ship. Large globules of the plasma shook the hull. "I don't need impress-," the nervous Progen man was cut off by the formation's emergence from the bright purple cloud to a wall of capital ship just beyond it. There was no time to turn, pull up or stop at this speed. His ship's NOS device was boosting the two ships' impulse far too much to slow before the formation would collide with the huge red armor of the Pax vessel. The Pakkratius gritted his teeth as his entire iteration flashed before his eyes on the crimson hull ahead. His muscles tensed. At least he had his boots on and a shot of vodka in him at the time of this death. It was his last thought as- "Fold," came the calm voice of the Jenquai Defender beside the Sabine Sentinel. Pink and purple energies erupted from the Defender class vessel and enveloped the entire formation. Instantly, the two were nowhere as space was folded, just a little, then unfolded just as quickly. The formation re-materialized several clicks on the far side of the Pax capital ship. Conservation of Momentum laws kept their promise and the two tiny ships rocketed away unharmed. The Doctor had not looked away. Progen, via gene immortality and out of habit watched their impending deaths. Thus the Pakkratius saw the pink-and-purple flash of the teleportation. One moment, he was seeing his ship's reflection in the wall of hull armor. The next, he saw the open space, almost as if he had speedily passed through the Pax to the other side. Still in shock and surprise, he looked out his bridge viewports at the *Warchild*. The Pakkratius could almost feel her grinning at him. Wormholes both natural and temporary, acceleration gates, Ancient gates and constructed gates, the Sentinel had been through them all. But never before had he been the recipient of teleportation. The fabled space-folding abilities were so rarely seen in Jenquai Defenders, that it was almost a myth to Progen. Twice in one week the Jenquai race had frightened him halfway to his next iteration. He imagined the Reclaimers standing over his dead form, putting in their report, "Died of Fright". The Sabine steeled himself from chastising a young, teenage girl, thus fully admitting he was surprised, impressed, bewildered, and a slew of other emotions the Reporter in him kept feeding into this amazing scoop he was now entangled. Instead he smiled a relieved smile at her and said, "Nice touch." Wolfsdottir beamed over the vid-comm back at him, the same cunning and feral smile of a Jenquai girl caught with her hand in a dessert dispenser. Having broken through the Progen line of battle, something not easily done, the pair continued from the main battle exchanges toward the Progen rear. The Combine paid little attention though they did verbally protest the presence of a Jenquai well out of its element here in Moto, 61Cygni. Of the white Sabine Sentinel, they commented little having read his ship's IFF transponder and press agency neutrality beacon. It was as always, the disdain for media-types and the Net-7 News Reporter was no exception, even if he was an anchorman in the field. Still wet with Progen apathy, the formation continued to the distant InfinitiGate that leapt across the galaxy to connect with Progen space. They passed the Combine command ship, the fearsome Pax Remar, under the command authority the famous Anjuren Kahn of the Centuriata. Silent dismissal greeted the two small ships as they glided over the length and width of the massive capital ship. Ahead lay the exit from a war that showed little sign of letting up any time soon. * * * Caius Hellstrom received the signal as he was the closest Sabine in-the-know. It was a Sabine-coded masercom beam that he had answered from the unlikely Pax Remar. He had answered it with mild reluctance. The Signifier that was attached to the Combine warship appeared and gave report that a Jenquai Defender similar configuration to the wanted Wolfsdottir had penetrated the demilitarised zone of Moto and was soon to enter Altair III. The Sentinel Caius did not forward the masercom. Rather, he pocketed this new tip and thanked the Signifier attache. With his squadron so close to Altair system, he decided to let the majority of the Sabine Order to continue to spread its search perimeter in other directions. The system gate to Altair was just ahead here in Endriago. His patience in letting other eager Sabine rush forward to glory was about to pay off. In his new rush towards Altair, he had cut off the last of the Signifier's report rudely. Hellstrom missed that the Wolfsdottir was being escorted by a white Sabine Sentinel with the logo markings of Net-7 News. * * * The Shinwa had spread out from Sirius system to nearly encompass Capella system and the many memorials of Jupiter sector, Sol. Ken'shao Julie had been systematic and thorough as she stationed her Defenders just off key navigation points, hidden under cloaking fields and passively scanning the space-lanes. If the deserter showed her hull in Jenquai space, the Defenders were to tail her until enough numbers were gathered to overtake and capture her. She led the search pattern's front edge. The Ken'shao wanted to be the first to spot Wolfsdottir. Currently she was spreading further into Saturn sector. Soon there would be nowhere the AWOL girl could go through neutral Sol that the Jenquai could not spot her. The search was not without hurdles. Covering Saturn sector from both Jupiter sector and the system gate to Beta Hydri attracted the attention of the galaxy's most trusted news source. Net-7 News was very difficult to slip past and Julie was thankful that at the moment Wolfsdottir was not present. A news frigate pulled up and signalled Ken'shao Joo Li. "Hailing the Shinwa Defenders, this is anchorwoman Zona Mason of Net-7 News." Ken'shao Joo Li of the Shinwa put on her best public face before the media with, "Ken'shao Joo Li. Salutations to Net-7 News. What can the Shinwa help you with, Ms. Mason?" "Oh, we were just in the sector, ha-ha," said the anchorwoman, "and noticed the increased presence of Defenders in Net-7 News home sector of Saturn. Care to make a statement on that, ma'am?" "We Shinwa are mobilised to further be of aid to the galaxy," Joo Li half-lied, knowing that Mason would dig and dig for at least a statement. "Oh, interesting that there are so many Defenders available, ma'am," noted Mason publicly. Ken'shao Joo Li looked at the woman on the vid-comm. The Terran woman was dressed in her on-camera best suit, her hair up and proper. She was making notes and pressing controls rapidly on a data-tablet, no doubt to Joo Li that she was inputting spin and sensationalism to the encounter despite the verbal aspect. Though the Jenquai had personally never met the famous Zona Mason, anchorwoman on every galactic broadcast, Mason was known for digging for gossip and social stories. Mason, to Joo Li's mind, must be seeking some foothold on the Jenquai arm of the galaxy. To date, there was only one Net-7 News correspondent put forth by the xenophobic Jenquai race. Terrans talked too much and most of what they said was a waste of mental energy to the Ken'shao. "Rest assured that we Shinwa are often available to lend aid when and where least expected," Joo Li gave her best mission statement to the press. "Now, I must be off. Thank you for your time." "Can you tell me-," Zona Mason to extend the interview, but was cut off by the disappearance of the Shinwa. Some Jenquai ships slipped into invisibility of cloaking fields while others were Summoned by the space-folding abilities from across the sector. Julie's Defender craft merely folded space just beyond the huge Net-7 News frigate. Before the frigate could swing around, she was well into a warp cone and speeding away. She could hear over sector broadcast channels as Mason concluded the interview. "All of the Shinwa are out on helpful maneuvers across Jenquai space and Sol. For Net-7 News, this is your anchor, Zona Mason." The musical jingle of the newscorp played before the commercial broadcasts began.
  2. The Thule Project - Acknowledgements by Pakkrat The irony of having my best writing come forth while I was supposed to be working in my cubicle was not lost on me. Every time I actively tried to write at home or anywhere else, there were interruptions and distractions. But these pains made finishing this book all the more sweet. Thanks again goes to the players of: ShadowWalker, thanks for coming back to us and shining again as a sounding board for Jenquai topics, helpful hints, and general game crunch. Vitaes, thanks for pushing me forward to finish the Pakkrat Master Genome trilogy. His advice and counsel concerning synesthesia again helped with his character's cameos in this final chapter. Thanks goes to Mynd, who published the Earth & Beyond Storyline Resource on the Roleplaying sub-Forum of the Net-7 Entertainment Forum. I delved often, even in mere curiosity, digging for more details to include in the paths of the characters in the stories. And a thanks goes out to all the readers of the Pakkrat Master Genome trilogy. Watching the number of views climb is a subtle but potent treat. I hope it sparked your interest in deepening your character(s)' stories. Fly safe!
  3. The Thule Project - Epilogue by Pakkrat The Battle of Kinshasa-Mbali was hushed by lots of money, warnings, and much disbelief at any rumors that escaped Aganju to parts beyond. Many ships on every front in addition to the EarthCorps were destroyed. Imperator Pakkrateus had to be Jumpstarted by Grandmaster Vitaes. The Wolfsdottir's ship was smoking and sparking but she had scored more than ten kills having lost count after that many. The deadliest fire had come from the precision beam strikes of the ex-assassin ShadowWalker, whose guerilla warfare tactics caught his foes off-guard. Dr. Pakkratius had run out of ammunition and so was forced to stop in the middle of the battle and Powerdown his ship, using the last of his reactor power. Swearing obscenities and prayers to Vita Theodora and Artemis Jericho to bring more ordinance next time, the Reporter for Net-7 News had to take a spectator's seat to the second half of the battle, beaming his friends with his various arcane devices and hindering as much as possible any enemies. In the end, the entire battle was written off by the Warship Genesis as a terrorist movement of Psi refugees from the sector with a battle to cover their tracks. The capital ship returned to its post at the command of the Republic. The Outlings in Aganju sector were wiped out, but it was guessed that the Menorg Swarm held countless more of the strange drones. InfinitiCorp's *Insider* took a temporary post above Kinshasa-Mbali Station until more EarthCorps security forces arrived via the system gate to Tau Ceti. The sector slowly picked up the debris, wreckage and salvaged derelicts where possible. Then life returned to normal business as usual. It was a month later that the Pakkrat, the Pakkratius and his clone brother the Pakkrateus were formed before the strange and unfathomable Continuum Wrinkle in Xipe Totec sector, under the white glare of the Sirius binary stars. With the Pakkrat Master Genome was the ShadowWalker, Siobhan, Vitaes and the Wolfsdottir. The Prototype Dark Matter Tech 9 Launcher was found fused solid under the wing of the *Labyrinth Runner* and no amount of small cutters could remove the malignant weapon. The Pakkrat fired the remaining ammunition, before all the witnesses, into the one-way universal exit of the Continuum Wrinkle. Then he lowered his shields manually, even in the harsh radiations of of the Dog Star, Sirius B. "Do it," called the Pakkrat to the ex-assassin, ShadowWalker. With the use of Tech 9 plasma beams, the Jenquai severed the entire wing of the Tradesman to float free of the fuselage, taking Cuinnit Dougal's weapon with it. Then with a collective, tractor-beam push by the remaining ships present, the launcher, relieved of its Ancient artifacts, was disposed of into the spiraling egress from the universe. Then all went to celebrate, de-fuse and take a much-deserved load off at Glenn Commission's Friendship 7 casino space station. Amid the reunion, the Terran progenitor came to full acquaintance with his Progen clone sons. Apologies for harsh words were exchanged between the Trader and the Reporter. The Pakkrat wheeled in Siobhan, who was recovering quickly thanks to Jenquai and Progen medicine and therapy. The Pakkrateus gently protested at this. Siobhan reached up to gingerly kiss the Imperator Privateer. "You will take me on dates." "On what?" asked the Collegiate. Eventually, Siobhan, known to the Pakktatius and the Pakkrateus as the First Sabura had to return to Enrdriago Planet to oversee the Sabura Warriors Project. There was much to teach the new genetic line. The field Reporter and Anchor-rat for Net-7 News, disgruntled at having lost the scoop of the decade, sat next to the Wolfsdottir at the bar in the lounge, his adopted daughter hugging him. He harumphed and sipped vodka as the teenage Jenquai girl smiled her fanged grin up at him. "Cheer up, dad." Next to the dad-daughter pair stood the silent and smiling ShadowWalker. The weapons crafter had tried his best to persuade the Trader to let him analyze the launcher to no avail. Soon the ex-Shinwa had to return to his business of making weapons out of Orsini Mining Platform. Vitaes had already received calls from Antares 1 of strange, solar flare activity that was reflecting off the frontier station's superstructure, causing a mirror-image mirage. He rushed off to study the strange phenomenon after saying his good-byes. Rather than go freelance, the Pakkrat went onward to apply to the Glenn Commission as a consultant to the Glenn Treaty and offered tours of Aragoth out of Friendship 7, the "next-door neighbor" to NET-7 SOL in adjacent Saturn, Sol. With the remaining credits already in his account, the Merchant Prince Pakkrat was able to pay for repairs to the *Labyrinth Runner*. Then it was back to business as usual, without the lethargic aroma of the Collegia's Aromatic Chocolate permeating his cargo hold. "A toast," announced the celebrating Terran Trader Merchant Prince Pakkrat. "To Earth-" "And Beyond," answered everyone else in the lounge raising their glasses.
  4. The Thule Project - Ch. IX by Pakkrat IX. *"Mistress, he can see us," warned Joga to her Lady DeWynter.* *"How is that possible?" asked the surprised DeWynter who stood up from her seat and marched to the bridge consoles where her secretary stood. "Our systems are top-of-line Jenquai, Terran and even Progen. He should not be able to see us."* *Rather than argue the point, Joga merely pointed at the Pakkrat's ship and the warning target reticle that indicated the **Andromeda** had been targeted.* Several things happened at one time and they converged upon Kinshasa-Mbali, the paired formation and by extension the cloaked, black capital ship *Andromeda*. "Do you see what I have targeted, Siobhan?" asked the Pakkrat who was cycling through the huge vessel, the Terran Psi (whom he assumed was P3889) and the multiple bogeys approaching from across the sector. "I keep trying, but I get nothing," answered the Warrior. "But I am starting to read incoming ships from all over, Pakkrat." "I think I just made a huge mistake," said the man in the Tradesman ship. Across the sector, ships of many different classes were converging upon Kinshasa-Mbali. Dark-like, silver ships of Terran Psi refugees turned as one, without communications and flew, in an attack formation, towards the InfinitiCorp Tradesman that had breached such a huge Ancient and thus psionic signature. Through their mutual telepathy, the Psis powered up what little offensive capabilities they could muster. On the far side of Aganju, the cybernetic psionic brains of the Outling drones, once Terran Psis themselves until the experiments that liberated the brain and stem from human flesh and encased them in cold machines, turned as one and began engaging the largest telepathic network. Via the Outlings' powers, the InfinitiCorp Drone Controllers mutineered and joined the individual Outlings themselves. The unspoken call to all Outlings to converge on the space station over Aganju Planet went out. *Psionic mind signature of unprecedented power detected. Liberate the mind and add it to our own. Liberate!* At the simultaneous formation of the Outlings, the local InfinitCorp trade ships, oft-misnomered 'Bruisers' tried to blockade the wave of modified and mutineer mining drones. A battle commenced but the numbers was clearly in favor of the Outlings. With the incoming Psis and their telepathic calls for aid, the Anseria, Terran terrorists who wanted to free all Psis, erupted from their hiding sites in the near vicinity of the orbital platform. Anseria craft of various classes flew to bolster the Psis numbers. Though not all Anseria were gifted with psionics, being mundane Terran freedom-fighters, they fell into wings and formations to respond. This in turn roused the patrolling EarthCorps security craft. Charged with keeping Aganju peaceful and under control of their InfinitiCorp contractor, the Terran fighters activated their Rally defenses and grouped into formations to respond. And still escalation continue to rise. With the activation of EarthCorps, the military arm of the Terrans in Aganju, the Progen Warship Genesis put out its call to heightened alert, summoning the embedded Progen spy ships in the various fields across the sector. Being the only visible capital ship in this part of space, the Progen were in no hurry or true state of emergency. Regardless, the long-sleeping systems of the capital ship were brought online once more. Via a bounced lasercom beam off Kinshasa-Mbali station, a call from COO Lady DeWynter herself contacted the sub-capital corvette, the *Insider*, and recalled it from the depths of a coreward field of expensive, high-yield ores. It was to return to Kinshasa-Mbali and defend InfinitCorp assets at once. The *Insider*, noting the lasercom beam, thus indicating that the Lady was present in-sector and in need of help, turned and made for the corporate platform. It was chased by another wing of Outlings. Simultaneously, a similar lasercom beam, again from Kinshasa-Mbali, recalled the InfinitiCorp paladin ships from their guardian posts over Xai Xai station, the funnel registration platform for Psi workers in 61 Cygni. They were to respond to the amassing Psi uprising crossing Aganju's north pole towards the station. In the far corner of the Terran sector, the sector stargate to Moto opened and flashed its temporary wormhole. Behind the small formation of Rogue Progen ships who had already left to respond to the Progen call, despite their difference of ideology, came two more formations of seemingly-random vessels. First to emerge from the opened portal were three Jenquai ships: two Sha'ha'dem Explorers and a Shinwa Defender. Grandmaster Vitaes of the Explorer ship *Rocinante*, called from the Antares Frontier to this place, said to his racial kinsmen, "I detect incredible concentrations of psionic energies, both at the station and from all over the sector." "I concur," added Grandmaster Nervestrike to the formation's leader. "There is a battle about to occur over more than one plane of consciousness and existence here." "Fire it up, boys," called the Ken'shao ShadowWalker in the lead position. Vitaes was first to identify his enemies from his friends. The psionic signature auras over every ship in the sector was visible to him in various colorful emanations. Though his chromesthetic synesthesia, he could tell friend from foe without having to target his weapons. He knew just by looking at them. All the Jenquai lit up their ships with Psi Shields and Environment Fields as they closed on the vectoring ships. This in turn aggravated the nearest wing of Outlings. *Additional psionic minds have arrived! Liberate all! Liberate!* The second formation of ships arrived through the Moto stargate immediately after the Jenquai formation. In the lead position of this new formation was the white, sailed Sentinel ship *Culler* of Dr. Pakkratius, Anchor-rat for Net-7 News. Beside him was his younger clone brother Imperator Pakkrateus in his Privateer's *Maze Runner*. He had been called from the moment the Merchant Prince Pakkrat had departed NET-7 SOL in Saturn. Third in the formation trio was the Jenquai Defender *Warchild*, piloted by Pakkratius' adopted Wolfsdottir. All three ships were already Repulsor Fielded and Psi Shielded upon entering Moto. The Sabine Doctor was seemingly talking to himself as he flew the formation forward towards Kinshasa-Mbali, "All the news from space, this is Net-7 News!" "How can you do the news at a time like this?" demanded his clone brother, the Pakkrateus. "Siobhan's in trouble." "Agreed, dad," said the young girl in the third position. "We hunt this day." All of the two formations of Jenquai and Progen exiting Moto had mustered in Endriago sector and had travelled at maximum freewarp through the battleground of 61 Cygni B, using the Navigation skills of Vitaes and Nervestrike, heedless of the gravity wells and the ongoing warzone there. Though latest to the sector, the two groups were present before the first shot was fired. From all over the small sector of space, a battle of true chaos was enjoined. At its core was a single Tradesman ship and a Warrior. DeWynter lasercommed the Pakkrat, "You just opened Pandora's Box, Pakkrat. You now know far too much and can only save yourself by doing one task for all Terran humanity. Joga!" "Mistress," answered her secretary. "Shut down all communications relays coming from or going to Kinshasa-Mbali on my authority. I don't want anything to get through. It seems Net-7 News is here as well." "No! This is unnecessary - this fight-" the protests of P3889 in the station was cut off by the authority of the InfinitiCorp COO. His fists beat on the transparent windows as a panicked look upon his face evidenced. His mouth kept shouting silently as the Pakkrat watched him from his position. All about the Tradesman, the Warrior and the black ship before him was a battle of more than eight Factions, each fighting anyone they saw as an enemy and for reasons none but him could truly understand. It was escalating faster and faster. "You have but one choice, rat," said DeWynter. "This battle. It's nothing compared to the carnage that will come. You learned this, haven't you?" "Pakkrat, no," cut in Siobhan. Though she could not see whom the trader was speaking, she recognized the voice as Lady Isabela DeWynter. "Don't listen to her, you still have a choice. This isn't your-" she was cut off by DeWynter. "Joga." In the time it had taken to kill the communications of the space station, the bulbous coverings had slid back from the hull of the black capital ship. Huge guns and launchers had been revealed. It took only five shots, a small volley, to silence the Warrior. Siobhan's ship exploded in an outward shower of weapons, unexpended ammunition, weapons, armor, hull, and fins. The ship went dark and was through-penetrated by five huge holes. Siobhan was gone. "Siobhan!" cried the Pakkrat. He targeted the *Kitten*, scanning it. "Make your choice, Pakkrat!" ordered the Lady with a firm voice. With the very-low signature of the huge vessel and the chaos of multitudinous engagements, it was unlikely anyone had seen the attack. But one vessel did. "A Centuriata ship has been downed," called the Warship Genesis. "All Progen craft engage!" "You bitch!" said the Pakkrat with tears in his eyes. "She was my friend." "Traders don't get to have friends, rat," explained DeWynter. "A few for millions, rat. Take the shot, Pakkrat! That is an order!" The Pakkrat knew exactly who she was indicating. P3889 was right there in the windows, banging on the glass in protest of the carnage outside the station. Only one weapon in the entire sector could hope to penetrate the Terran station's shielding and kill one Psi in favor of saving millions of Psis in the prophesied genocide. One life for many. Was it really that easy? What was the cost? Questions riddled the Terran as he pointed the *Labyrinth Runner* at the man in the observation deck. There was a wide-eyed surprise on the face of P3889 as the Pakkrat targeted Kinshasa-Mbali's lounge wing. At the ringing, in-range tone, the weapons came online. The trader took off the safeties of his missile launchers as one. Only one would truly penetrate, but it was enough to kill everyone in the observation deck. He paused as the greater battle all about him was in full swing. Outlings swarmed every ship that displayed any evidence of psionic behavior, whether it was mistaken by a Psi Shield over a non-psionic pilot, a Jenquai disciple of some sort, the masses of Terran Psis being evacuated from Xai Xai Station, the Psis pilots and their craft, and the two active Ancient Artifacts that resonated with psionic energy. All were, to them, candidates to be liberated and saved from InfinitiCorp and added to the Outling society of 61 Cygni B and the greater Menorg Swarm. To the cold, cybernetic machines, this was a generous boon that they sought to deliver to the enslaved Psi minds before them. Anseria freedom-fighters fought a losing battle against both the InfinitiCorp paladins, the dreaded *Insider* and the contracted forces of EarthCorps, who were only doing their job. Choosing to open a gap instead of winning a war, the Anseria sought to provide an escape route for the evacuating Psis out of Xai Xai. For the Alliance, yet another Psi-rights interest group, had been biding their time for just such a chaotic event. Their personnel transports pulled into the hangars and offered evacuation to the Psis, under the cover of impersonating InfinitiCorp emergency crews. With their holds filling with frightened Psis, (who could feel the onslaught taking place outside in Aganju), the Alliance tried to sing freedom songs to the younger Psis. *Fear not young ones, for home is near* *It lies between the Lost and the Forgotten* *Take heart for freedom and shed no tear.* *The holy lord comes for gifted men* *Sanctus Kyrie!* The Progen forces of Warship Genesis clashed with everyone, now that one of their honored Centuriata had been dishonorably shot down without provocation. They immediately took to a Kill All - Let The Reclaimers Sort It Out behavior. Any target that fired upon them was subject to the powerful guns of the capital ship. However, their Progen spy ships were hit hard at first by Psi ships, InfinitiCorp paladins and Outling Drone Controllers. The *Insider* kept thrusting for Kinshasa-Mbali, even as it was swarmed by Outlings and attacked by Anseria freedom-fighters. Though it downed many on its trudge to the station, it was mired by the carnage as fast as it could put out. "Nerve," called the ShadowWalker, "see what you can do about the *ahem* Centuriata at the base. Perhaps if we can get her Jumpstarted - if she's alive....." The Grandmaster broke off from the hit-and-cloak tactics of the Jenquai to begin warping to the downed Warrior. Her emergency beacon was still not lit, indicating that the pilot might truly be the first casualty of this insane battle. But emergency Jumpstarting, was the Sha'ha'dem Grandmaster's specialty. He had been partial to many a daring rescue in hostile territories. "Dot!" called the Pakkratius, "Cloak now! Those Rogue Progen mean business and they still hate Jenquai!" The Report winged his ship around to face off against his own kind, the rogues that had while refusing to be Reclaimed and serve the Republic, yet had sided with the Progen in this Terran theatre of battle. To them, the Jenquai were just another target. The Wolfsdottir cloaked her ship as her dad ordered, but stayed in formation with him regardless. The last strike to her shields had jeopardized her in her zeal to dance the Dance of Annihilation's call even if she had sworn off the Destroyer's lure. Pakkrateus in his *Maze Runner* was taking a pounding as his ship reached in all directions with a powerful Shield Nova. Energy lightning erupted from his ship to gain the attention of any 'enemy' that was too close for comfort. A lightning storm with his Privateer ship lit the sky causing all who had not the nerve to cut a wide swath around the nova. From cloaking, Grandmaster Vitaes, flew much higher in the Z-axis than most to pick and choose his targets wisely. Abhorring this violent conflict, he was no less entrapped within the theatre conflict of many against many. Whenever he saw a means to incapacitate a ship, he chose to fire his weapons from surprise. He took only incapacitating shots as he continued on to Kinshasa-Mbali which looked plagued with dogfighting ships all about it. The *Andromeda*, swarmed by Psis who could detect minds even if their scanners failed to target the huge, black vessel, let out only a few shots at a time so as to no spoil its advanced cloaking to the entire sector. Even so, the formidable ship's shields took hit after hit from insect-strikes from the Outlings, Psis, Progen, Anseria and any stray shots that missed their intended. Friendly-fire was everywhere as the night was crossed by beams, webs of projectiles and faltering missiles. Joga, at the weapons command post barked orders at the bridge crews as wings of tiny ships sped past the invisible flagship of Lady Isabella DeWynter. Though they were high-ranking security forces, EarthCorps had never encountered such a variety of targets. With the advance of the Progen, the rebelling Psis, the terroristic Anseria and the launch of the evacuated Psis at Xai Xai, the Corps were hard-pressed to cover all the targets at once. Though they sailed about aiding InfinitiCorp where the could, EarthCorps were not numerous enough to hold the entire tide from reaching Kinshasa-Mbali. The station was enduring hit after hit from stray shots from everywhere. Yet the station's shields held strong to the security forces' relief. *With but one shot,* thought the Pakkrat at the center of the conflict, *I can end this and save millions. Siobhan, help me.* The man in the windows who for a second was surprised that the white Tradesman had turned on him, adopted a new facial expression. P3889's arms dropped from striking the glass and he stood up straight. It was the first second, that the man had realized his own danger and accepted his new fate. In the next second, the man smiled a gentle and kindly smile at the pilot - at the Pakkrat. The Pakkrat's finger touched the trigger that would fire all of his launchers, including Cuinnit Dougal's Prototype Dark Matter Tech 9 Launcher. One life for many kept repeating in his head. But then the Pakkrat saw the calm upon the face of the Terran Psi in the lounge of Kinshasa-Mbali. A sane man at least would have run screaming for the next compartment, wing or superstructure of the station. But not this man. He stood there, staring gently at the Pakkrat. Was he suicidal or self-sacrificing? Was he aware of the sacrifice the prophesy dictated? The third second ticked. Time stopped for the Pakkrat. The battle outside his ship, outside the station stopped mid-fire. Then the Terran Trader's world went gray-to-white. A man stood in the field of grass. Trees in the perimeter of this park swayed to a gentle zephyr under the blue sky of what the Pakkrat guessed was New Edinburgh, Tau Ceti. It was a public park in the city of Bishopgate. Pakkrat had visited here once during the past two years. The park was empty except for himself and a man the trader saw as P3889. On the grassy ground was an array of hundreds - no, it must have been thousands - of chessboards and game pieces. The trader sat, in the same position he was as if he had never left his cockpit bridge of the *Labyrinth Runner*. The Terran man tried to move and discovered that he could. Standing up from a park bench and releasing the (imagined?) controls of his ship, the trader walked toward P3889. The Terran Psi turned to see the Pakkrat approaching. The Psi was wearing a silver buckled, white jacket. Standing next to a chessboard, P3889 gestured for the man from North America to join him. He had the same smile as in Kinshasa-Mbali. P3889 was considering the chessboard before him when the Pakkrat spoke to his own amazement, "Is this your game?" Smiling, the Psi answered, "They all are. Greetings, Pakkrat. I am not what you see before you." "Then who are you?" asked the incredulous trader. He looked down at as many of the chess games as his field of vision would allow. "I was Dr. Elijah Malacore," answered the man beside him, "or I will be or am now. It matters little. I too opened a Pandora's Box myself. You know me in your time as P3889, the registered Terran Psi. But I was much more before, during and especially after that." The Pakkrat felt the mental gravity of what Malacore had just said and decided to go back to the games on the grass with, "Who is your opponent? Are you playing alone, against yourself?" "Oh no," answered the representation of Dr. Elijah Malacore or P3889. The Pakkrat could not decide which yet to identify him. "That would be a waste of my purpose, goals and ego." "Then who?" "Questions, questions," noted the Malacore Consciousness, for Pakkrat was beginning to intuit the details of this encounter faster and faster than even he believed possible. It was as if the entity before him were making him more and more capable of understanding this exchange - this communion. "Last question then," declared the Pakkrat. "How about I shut up and let you do the....talking - or whatever?" "Wiser too," observed the entity before the trader. Then he began his tale in the form of images and telepathic phrases. The planet was Earth. *My first human life was being born to Dr. Carolyn Malacore, 1987 Common Era in Buenos Aires, Brazil.* The pregnant woman stood on the balcony of a penthouse, looking up into the night's stars. Then the light of the exploding Great Magellanic Cloud arrived. She witnessed it directly. His 'mother' collapsing to the floor, the Malacore Consciousness allowed itself to be gestated and later born to human life. *I have lived quite a few human lives since that day.* Lives lived flashed past the perception of the Pakkrat. Then, as Elijah Malacore, the Terran Psi, Pakkrat saw the entity grow and live as one of the indoctrinated 'gifted'. Through the lessons learned from the First Terran Psionic Suppression, humanity tried to co-exist with the strange and different. The psionic humans. Through the Ramirez Codes, laws enacted to teach the mundanes to live side-by-side with the gifted, the future Psis were taught from very early age that they were special. *We were taught that in trade for our 'gifts', that we should serve the new Terran Alliance with our powers as part of our civic duty.* There were times where change was resisted. Psis died or were tortured. But additionally, there were events where Psis were a great boon to Terrans. Eventually, by manipulating the Ramirez Codes, InfinitiCorp sheltered the oppressed Psis under its mega-corporate wing in exchange for use of the Psis' abilities. The segregation that occurred between them and the mundane Terrans buffered the violence for a time. But then the corporation began to put the Psis in increasingly dangerous work environments. With their dwindling rights being whittle away, *we became indoctrinated slaves to InfinitiCorp*. Flashing forward to the Crystal Age, Psis now worked in 61 Cygni with their special abilities. With the dangerous environments of the Aganju mines, lava covered planets, and seeking warded Ancient ruins, the Psis began to wonder if they would ever be free to decide their own fate. *I tried the passive-aggressive and passive-resistant modalities of your Mahatma Gandhi.* Elijah Malacore attempted to soothe and calm the protests. Violence was not the way. *I tried to speak of non-violence as did a Dr. King Jr.* Yet more and more the mundanes assumed the Psis were less than human, apart from the *homo sapiens* genus-species. Segregation was only causing mundane Terrans to look across the fence at the gifted and the distant Jenquai. *You see, we perceived, conceptualized and had different realizations from mundanes.* Forward into time, past Pakkrat's presence in the Crystal Age, the trader saw the exodus of Psis from the oppression of Terran mundanes, the enslaving InfinitiCorp and the invasion of the aliens - *They call themselves VR3X. You have encountered them.* War, destruction and ignorance only fanned the flames of atrocity incurred upon the Psis during the V'rix Invasion. But one hope, one haven remained. *It was we Psis who were able to calibrate the quantum silk for refining and embedding into the InfinitiGates once the technology was unlocked.* The Pakkrat remembered in his own implanted vision. Amah, the Progen hero, seemed to recite *"...FOR THIS I BLAME THE PSIS."* The Malacore Consciousness seemed to nod its entity head. *Many will blame us for what we were forced to do by our oppressors.* The underground egress of freedom continued until there was a grand exodus in the heights of the alien invasion. The Psis migrated, against InfinitiCorp policy to Sanctus Kyrie system in the same constellation as 61 Cygni. Settling a new planet they founded a new society of gifted Terrans. Then came EarthCorps, who were not going to let such an asset get way so easily. *They invaded Sanctus Kyrie.* Though the Psis were increasing in their powers and awareness, EarthCorps in their secret labs had prepared for this Psi uprising. Fear of Psionic Ascendance was foremost on the minds of the Majestic Project deep in Aquitaine forest moons. Just before the warships engaged the tiny Psi fleet, EarthCorps released the neurovirus that infected the Psis by their own psionics. Mind after mind, over the entirety of the planet within hours, Terran Psis -by their own perceptions - were burned from the inside out. First was confusion, then came madness and then death. Finally the psionic wails decimated more than twenty million souls on Sanctus Kyrie. Only those that were able to consciously shut off their mental connections, their psionic awarenesses, were spared the initial wave of the neurovirus. *Now, I was by this time dead. Poisoned and later killed by the V'rix.* The Malacore Consciousness was present for the genocide. It heard the death-wail of millions and took in all of that psionic energy. The consumption forced Psionic Ascendance upon the man that was once the peaceful Dr. Elijah Malacore. It turned him into an angry, sorrow-filled being. It was no surprise to the Pakkrat watching the play of events that the Malacore Consciousness lashed back in vengeance. With a grand pulse of psionic energy, every EarthCorps ship crew, marines, and command was slain in the wave. Death and karma were good friends that day. *But your 'prophecy' was wrong that it was the end of the Terran Psis.* Not all were slain by the genocidal neurovirus. *We lived on and slowly recovered.* After their "holy lord", the Malacore Consciousness, delivered them and shut down the system gate to Xango sector, *I took to the black depths to deal with the dark entity I had become.* But ever afterwards, no Psi communicated through the vocal chords again in reverence of their deliverance and liberation. The Malacore Consciousness sailed the universe, so powerful was its Psionic Ascendance. *It was not the Ascendance of certain Jenquai ambitions, but I had little leverage to argue.* Via its immense ability to perceive itself, the universe even the space-time continuum itself, the entity in its explorations looked backward in time along causal lines of why things had become as they had. It wound back through the entirety of humanity's history and saw more causal lines stretching back before the first *homo sapiens* arose. *I was witness to something forbidden. The Ancients were leaving our universe. But their subordinates, the Greys or Israfel stormed the gates of the Ancients in protest. You might call them *asura* or fallen angels or whatever your mind can handle, Pakkrat.* The Malacore Consciousness was witness, though not present to the final battle where the Israfel were defeated and imprisoned within a supergiant star that then went supernova. The blast from inside the heart of the Great Magellanic Cloud caught the awestruck entity and continued onward through time-space, arriving at Earth in the year 1987 C.E. The tremendous energies shredded at the Psionic-Ascendant Malacore Consciousness. A chunk of the powerful being was blown outside time and space yet still maintained contact with its remaining shards. *This is why I can be anywhere and any time I choose.* In its damaged state at having seen angels battle gods, the Malacore Consciousness withdrew to the span of humanity's timeline and began chronicling human history. It created the Index, a set of crystals that when viewed showed desired human chapters. To maintain the Index, the entity partitioned the remaining shards of itself into Librarians, watching over the Index. "That does not answer why I am here and what I am doing with a gun to your metaphysical head," interjected the Pakkrat. *Having viewed their defeat and shame was too much for the Israfel to accept.* They continued to reach out from their prison. One does not descend to mortal lives, even once and then dare to witness the fall of angels. Israfel on occasion managed to escape and meddle with humanity in its early development. They tried in Egypt, at Stonehenge, in China and even to the primitives of North America. But twice did they meet poor endings at the hand of man. Having fended off visiting Greys, man chose to create a body of learned men who would remember these visitations and defend the Earth from all threats. Thus the Shadow Cabinet, later infiltrated by the Greys - the Israfel - to find and destroy the Malacore timeline, even as they continued to 'defend' all humanity. By the time the limited battle was enjoined by the Israfel and the Malacore Consciousness, limits on maneuvers were already in place. *You see, time-space is inviolate, lest we destroy each other, humanity, the V'rix, and everything in this existance - all existances.* Paradox was mutually-assured destruction, un-writing all involved. "Those are your opponents in the park, the bad angels," said the Pakkrat. *They aren't bad. They're just not ready, even as I am not ready.* The park returned or the two returned to the park. The human man could not decide which was true. The pair stood before the chessboard among many chessboards. "You have way too many opponents," noted the Pakkrat. *Tell me about it. All the moves concerning you are on just this chessboard, Pakk.* The trader looked down at the board. The game was clearly in the favor of the opponent or opponents of the man beside him. Only one move was left on the chessboard, checkmate. Malacore was the 'king' and Pakkrat came to the conclusion as to his role being the dangerous, opposing 'rook' that was to seal the deal. "Why haven't you lost yet then?" asked the trader. *You haven't pulled that trigger, Pakkrat. But since I and my opponents cannot rob you of your free will, we mutually agreed to let you make the final move. You can pull that trigger and kill me. More than twenty millions lives will be saved to continue slaving away for InfinitiCorp forever. You would then be a hero to have stopped the Battle of Kinshasa-Mbali and your DeWynter will pay you far more than 161 years of back pay. The system gate to Xango will never be completed and Sanctus Kyrie will remain a dream of the Psis rather than a true hope.* *Or you can spare me - my human self - and history will play out with much suffering, but also far more hope for the future.* The Pakkrat paused to ask a question, but never voiced it to the Malacore Consciousness. Instead, he posed a different question, "How do I know you have told me the truth, showing me instead what you want me to see?" *That is easy.* The man that was Dr. Elijah Malacore gestured wide in a sweep of his arm. Humanoid forms, shadowy-gray in color with folded wings crouched facing each chessboard, each considering their next move on their respective match. *They consented to let you make the move if I was truthful in telling my story. Any falsehood on my part would break the Free Will clause in allowing you here.* "Are those the bad angels?" asked the Pakkrat. *Think of them a representation that your mundane mind can handle, Pakkrat.* "What about the Thule Project?" asked the human to the entity. *This game? You want the replay? It began with the Greys who made a move to destroy my timeline to wipe out the opportunity to become what I am now. I countered by sending the dreams to a Dr. Cuinnit Dougal. The Greys then input their move to have the weapon hopefully stolen from the researcher. Escaping with his life, he sent the load-out away. I helped him escape, defecting to GETCo. I did not help him forge another prototype despite the Greys' attempts to provide another artifact. The Greys tried another move to counter me. They, through the Shadow Council, sent the nav-disc to your friend, the Finn.* "Did you send the comet then to counter the attempt to steal the weapon from me?" asked the Pakkrat. *Neither the Greys nor I saw the comet coming, Pakk. I am sorry you were caught in something neither opponent could foresee or prevent. It is a testament that you chose to survive. I congratulate you on that.* "The Progen?" further probed the trader. *A failed move on my part to regain the weapon in time to use to stop Amah from using the Appian Codex to alert the V'rix. I thought that the Warthog might rescue you and take you back to Progen space to bring you closer to the Centuriata hero.* "But that didn't happen," noted the Pakkrat. *The Greys then devised a plan by tapping a member of the Shadow Cabinet, Lady DeWynter, (don't ever let her know you are now aware of her), to recover the weapon and its Ancient artifact mate.* "Finn's dying confessional?" *My move, as was the journal of the researcher, Dougal.* "Amah's mention of you being the key?" *That was a tricky move on the part of the Israfel because they had to speak through her, augmenting her normal, allowed responses. She's now the property of the V'rix.* "The moves just kept trading shots, like in chess, right?" *Now you begin to understand.* "But Siobhan's now dead, thanks to your match," sighed the Pakkrat. *Another move of the Greys'. When subtlety fails, the whip became necessary to stop your rational mind and pull on your heartstrings.* Malacore gestured again, this time back to the park bench where the man from Earth had entered. The two went to seat the Pakkrat. Gently placing the Terran's hands back on the physical controls of the *Labyrinth Runner*, the entity then stepped back, again smiling that gentle smile of both surrender and a knowing satisfaction. "I'm not going to remember much of this," said the Pakkrat as he leaned back into the remembered cockpit seat, "like a fading dream." *Remember as much of it as you care to, Pakkrat. We will not meet again, save through the implicate order if you consent.* As one, the many opponents of the Malacore Consciousness stood up and screamed, flapping their wings. Gray feathers flew everywhere as the human's vision field went gray-white. "TRANSMISSIONISTRAVELLINGATSPEEDSGREATERTHANTHESPEEDOFLIGHT" The Pakkrat heard sounds before his eyesight registered blurry shapes. His sense of touch intervened before his eyes could focus. "Warrior," said a Jovian-accented male over the group lasercoms, "I am Grandmaster Nervestrike. A moment and you will be safe and your ship active again." The man's hands registered the hand controls. His right index was still on the weapons trigger. The tension on his grip was almost enough to fire all the missiles from the *Labyrinth Runner*, including the Prototype Dark Matter Tech 9 Launcher and its dark ammunition. Finally, the Pakkrat's vision sharpened on the Terran Psi ahead of him. P3889 was still smiling gently at him with a knowing expression. The dream unpacked itself in his head a second later. "Did you hear me, Pakkrat?" screamed Lady DeWynter. "Take the shot!" It took a concentrated will to carefully remove his finger from the trigger, his hand from the control. He whispered to himself, "No." "What did he say, Joga?" asked DeWynter to someone off the comm monitor. "This game is a draw," said the Pakkrat to the man before him. "The only winning move is not to play. This isn't my load of karma to deal with." "He's rambling, Mistress," said a deep female voice. With his left hand on the rudder stick, Pakkrat turned to face the invisible capital ship that only he could see. Recognizing the hazy outline of the black vessel's hull as a cloaking field, the trader began thrusting toward the bridge. "Mistress, he is moving on an attack vector." "Pakkrat, just what do you think you are doing?" Streaming plasma bolts streaked across the hull of the sleek capital ship between the bridge and the *Labyrinth Runner*. Still the Tradesman closed in on the bridge. "You killed her," said the Pakkrat. "Mistress, he has a lock on us, here in the bridge." "You insubordinate rat," called DeWynter. "I could destroy you in a single volley. Finish the Thule Project!" "You won't destroy me and the weapon with me," answered the trader from Earth. "And you have forgotten that I can target any part of your ship while you can only destroy me outright." "Mistress!" called Joga. Alarm bells rang out that the Pakkrat was in range of the bridge. "That's the whole thing about 'Thule'," continued the trader. "Perfection, in oneself, in a weapon that begs to be used, or a perfect haven or heaven. It's right in front of you and yet you cannot grasp it. Sailors tried to attain Thule but settled for less. This weapon is only perfect as the hand that fires it. And the Ancients are a poor substitute for angels to reach for, is all." "You are fired, rat!" yelled the COO of InfinitiCorp. "It takes a man to use a weapon," said the Pakkrat seemingly ignoring DeWynter's decree, "but it takes a better man not to use a weapon." "Did you hear me, you idiot?" shrilled DeWynter. "You are fired! Joga, have EarthCorps arrest this fool." "The EarthCorps contingent has been wiped from the sector, Mistress," reported the Progen woman. "You can't fire me, DeWynter," said the Pakkrat. "I quit." His finger paused over the missiles trigger once more. Over the group lasercom came the weak but familiar voice of Siobhan. "Pakkrat." On the monitor appeared the Progen warrior-woman. She was sitting up with the help of a strange Sha'ha'dem Jenquai man. Her armor had been removed and her black jumper was shredded. But various Jovian first-aid foams and bandages had been administered to her by the Grandmaster. "I'm alright." Tears welled up in relief as the battle raged on about the capital ship. Calls and flight maneuvers went on as he smiled to Siobhan. Explosions lit up the night sky outside Kinshasa-Mbali. "You just surrendered all of your back pay and insurances, rat," grumbled Isabella DeWynter. The Pakkrat looked out the front viewport of his ship, across to the black ship's bridge. There stood the regal Lady Isabella DeWynter. "When," asked the man from North America, Earth, "did you start believing this was about money?" Before she could reply, Pakkrat cut off the COO of InfinitiCorp. He guessed it was the first in a long time anyone had done so. It felt good. Siobhan was going to recover. Of course she would, he told himself. She's Progen and a tough nut to crack. She smiled at him at his final response to DeWynter, his former boss. Backing away from the huge capital ship, the Pakkrat re-formed the pair. Aiming the two ships, (hers being mostly repaired by the responding Grandmaster), at the space between Lost Point and Forgotten Point, he engaged the warp drive. As the ship's warp cone charged, the trader flipped the huge, black ship the 'bird' with his middle finger. Then the two shot for the system stargate to Xango on the far side of the sector. "Pakkat?" asked the warrior. "Hmmm?" responded the trader. "That gate isn't finished." "Yes it is." Over the local, sector broadcast the Pakkrat sang the nursery rhyme to the stargate seemingly buried in megatons of scaffolding, equipment and repair robots: *Fear not young ones, for home is near* *It lies between the Lost and the Forgotten* *Take heart for freedom and shed no tear* *The holy lord comes for gifted men* *Sanctus Kyrie!* It was a song the Pakkrat had heard Psis sing when they were at their unhappiest. Child-Psis had sung it in the halls of stations as their parents led them away from mundane Terrans. From inside all the construction structures answered the stargate with its opening. Before the stargate as the paired formation slowed to initiate gating were five escaping personnel transports of the Alliance. They too knew the secret long held by the Psis who had been ordered to construct the path to Xango sector, Sanctus Kyrie system. All the ships which had shared in the song disappeared from 61 Cygni. "How did you know?" asked Siobhan as they entered a strange and new frontier. "I had a little dream," answered the Pakkrat.
  5. The Thule Project - Ch. VIII by Pakkrat VIII. *Under the cover of its advanced stealth capabilities, the **Andromeda** again trailed the Tradesman and the Warrior as they left Lagarto sector. The two took the longer path from Gallina system, through Aragoth.* *Lady DeWynter had to check herself and her patience as the two stopped overnight at Friendship 7, the Glenn sector casino space station. No doubt, the Pakkrat and the Praefect were enjoying the Glenn Commission facility's tourist-trap distractions as they stayed. DeWynter did not dock her black and stealthy capital ship. The **Andromeda** was not supposed to exist and nobody outside its crew ever would know.* *"Joga," DeWynter called to the nearby Progen female.* *"Mistress?" the telempathic woman came to attention.* *"When we get to Aganju behind the rat," began DeWynter, "I will want your help in dealing with him to get this task done. As for the Warrior...you deal with her. Use the ship's guns if you have to."* *Joga grew grim and was soon a stoic statue as she nodded, "Acknowledged, Mistress." She then went to a weapons console crew member to prepare per the Lady's orders. * "From what I understand of these Sha'ha'dem Jenquai," told the Pakkrat to Siobhan as the two walked from the hangar to the main commons lobby of Paren Station the next day, "is that they don't like either Terrans and Progen much less." Siobhan folded her lightly-armored arms in front of her as the Pakkrat advised her. But she nodded to give the trader his say. "So let me do the talking and try not to be so martial, Siobhan," continued the Terran. The two had flown most of the next day through Beta Hydri and Sirius solar systems, after basking in the hospitality of Friendship 7 and the greater Glenn Commission. Now fully into the Capella system and deep inside Jenquai space, the two began to feel the eyes of the xenophobic race watching them as they plied the spacelanes. Pakkrat had spent a full half-hour trying to wrest the two Anicent artifacts from the prototype Dark Matter launcher as if it refused to be parted with its betrothed device. When he got nowhere with the connections, Siobhan had the strange, orange-gold frames and their respective crystals off in under five minutes. Thus, the two were well and ready to head inside and speak to the Jenquai researcher, Ayako Ravenlock. Pakkrat held both of the 'aa' devices as if they were twin offspring. Asking about for a short bit netted them directions from a Jenquai man who was willing to speak to the pair. Ayako Ravenlock, the woman in the very back of the lobby of Paren Station seemed almost hidden as the two approached. She was shorter and seemed older than Siobhan and she wore wire-framed glasses. The elderly woman was scrolling through a personal data-tablet when she was interrupted by the Pakkrat. Before the trader could speak, the Jenquai woman's initiative addressed him first, "Do you have my notes, young man?" Then she looked up and saw the tall Terran in an off-white trench. "Oh," she said. "I should have known." Before the trader could fully throw a pitch to ask Ravenlock to identify the two, framed devices, she was stepping up to him and adjusting her lenses at the crystals inside their frames. The Pakkrat was caught off-guard and could only look back at Siobhan who shrugged at him in return. "Most interesting," noted Ayako to herself, "Ancient artifacts to be sure, certifiable too. Hmmmm." The elder continued to look at each device from different angles as the Pakkrat continued to hold them. "Yes, well this one is an Ancient Artifact Gamik An Ne and the other an Ancient Artifact Uhtag An Ne. Most rare." The Pakkrat wondered at the Jenquai. Even after two years out of the freezer, he could only be continually amazed each time he had to deal with even one of the strange and mystical race. Ayako looked up at the tall Terran and asked hurriedly, "And just what where did you find these two, hmmm? What are you going to do with them? Why a Terran? No, wait. Don't answer that. I'll get it." She lowered her glasses to the tip of her sharp nose and stared hard and directly up at the Pakkrat. Pakkrat felt scrutinized by his mother or an evil aunt for having his hands in a dessert dispenser as Ravenlock bore into him. Inexplicably, he felt guilty for bringing her the two crystals. Then the Jenquai woman broke into a tirade, "This is an outrage! You would merge the power of the Ancients with a Terran weapon! Barbarian! Out. Out! Give up war and your InfinitiCorp, mercantile warmongering! Out before I call security." "Ma'am, I assure you-," the Pakkrat backpedaled. The elder woman had done some Jenquai psionic thing to him, he assumed. He had heard that the Jenquai race had openly developed psionics, but in the two years since the comet rescue, the trader had never been subjected to the gifts of psionics. He was about to tell his side of the story when Siobhan grabbed him from behind, spun him and marched him towards the front door. "Let's go, Mr. Rat," said the Warrior who, though significantly shorter, herded the trader who tried to pick up the pieces of the failed encounter with Ayako Ravenlock. But Siobhan was having none of it as she pushed him back toward the docking bay doors. "Don't even try your Terran Befriending tactics, trader," she warned. "The Jenquai out-class you mentally by far." They passed the Jenquai man who had pointed the pair to Ravenlock. He watched with a wry, knowing smile as the pair left the lobby. Then the man turned to head into the lounge section of the space station with a purpose. Siobhan pushed the Pakkrat into the hangar before he regained his balance enough to turn on her. "Why did you stop me?" he asked. "You were getting nowhere," answered Siobhan, "but I was listening while you were displaying the artifacts." Pointing to their docked vessels, the Warrior added, "We got their names and that's enough to run our own search through a friendly database; but for now, we leave. Ancient artifacts are too rare to just carry about, especially here in Jenquai space. Let's go, before some Sharim Ahzmundi tries to purchase them off you. It's your turn to get us some real information, Terran." The two exited in their vessels from Paren Station. * * * "She actually said 'warmongering'?" asked the black-clad, ex-assassin. The Jenquai man stood at the galactic net terminal onboard Friendship 7's casino, receiving a masercom communication from Dahin sector, Capella. His name lost to a painful career, he was known only as the ShadowWalker, now an upper-echelon weapons crafter. His black armor reflected the holographic image of the informant who had placed a call to him. "And what's better," said the Sha'ha'dem man, Grandmaster Nervestrike by translation from Jenquai dialect, the same person to point out Ravenlock to the trader and the warrior, "He was carrying Tech 8 Ancient artifacts, two in number." The ex-assassin added the description of Ayako Ravenlock's encounter with the couple with the unearthed relics. Two devices that she felt were contributing to weapons could be quite useful. He was considering the possibilities the aa Gamik and the aa Uhtag devices might serve when he felt a gentle tug on his belt from behind. "Don't move, assassin," said a rich, Martian-accented male behind him. Shadow froze but his mental psionics reached out and instantly identified the Progen man's mind behind him. "There is a very caustic chemical grenade on your belt and I have a finger in the pin," warned the Pakkratius, the Anchor-rat from Net-7 News. "You're going to listen to what I have to say....." * * * "I thought you got some sleep at Friendship 7," said the Pakkrat as the pair again traveled across Beta Hydri solar system. "After dinner, you read that whole thing?" he asked, indicating the leather bound journal of Dr. Cuinnit Dougal. "Pakk, the Progen race have been genetically engineered to require less sleep," explained Siobhan as the pair traversed Carpenter sector. "We also require less food, though the ample dinner you purchased for us was new to me. I am beginning to like Terran tastes in diet. If I choose, I can work 48 hours with only a few breaks in the task at hand. Besides, I was bored and wanted to learn more about our situation." The trader had listened to Siobhan paraphrase what further details she had read that night at the casino space station in Glenn sector. Siobhan had learned that after his defection from InfinitiCorp, the researcher had tried a second time with the aa Uhtag device provided by GETCo. The Good Earth Trading Company had tried to provide Dougal the means to replicate his notes. After two failures and very little of the original sample of dark matter left, he became deranged at this visions' portents. Throughout his notes, Siobhan noted, the man became obsessed with providing the single weapon, now lost to a trader's hauler, that could stop a genocidal conflict between two Terran groups by the destruction of Amah, a seemingly unconnected person to the Terran events. "He detailed a great disease released by one side of the conflict to wipe out Terran Psionics in one great epidemic on a planet," recalled Siobhan. "But Dougal did not know where or when this would happen." "Who would try to wipe out that many Terran Psionics?" asked the Pakkrat. "From his description and impressions, Dougal thought it was a Terran military trying to quell some sort of uprising by the Psis of a grand scale." "Uncool," said the Pakkrat. "Terrans wiping out their own. No wonder Dougal was becoming unhinged in trying again to make another launcher." "At Dougal's last failure," recalled Siobhan, "he stole the second Ancient artifact and left for deep space with the Freespacers, which is why we found him entombed. He lived out his days, haunted by the dreams." "Which only adds to my feeling that we're being played, Siobhan," agreed the Pakkrat. "I don't believe that Cuinnit Dougal was some dream-prophet." "Neither do I. His journal seems too detailed to be just some random Terran dreams. I think a greater psionic event was being used upon the researcher." The Pakkrat digested this new information and nodded to himself, "We really need to stop somewhere and analyze the names of these Ancient artifacts now that we have their names." "I concur," said Siobhan, "but where? Orsini Mining Platform is co-owned by InfinitiCorp and I hear rumors that there are less-scrupulous elements there. We cannot risk stopping at Somerled Station lest COO Lady DeWynter discover what we are about." "I have a back-alley idea then," answered the trader from Earth. "We'll go downtown." "Down-what?" The Pakkrat explained by saying, "Inverness Down may be a forgotten wreck of an upper-atmosphere station, but since it's run down and neglected by InfinitiCorp, it will be ideal to stop before heading to see this P3889 in 61 Cygni. It has an analysis terminal there and we can hide right under DeWynter's nose. The administrator there hates her anyways." "I have never been there," admitted the Warrior. "It's right up my alley," said the Pakkrat. "It's got lots of junk nobody will miss." "You can be occasionally very strange for a 200-year old Terran, Pakkrat," teased Siobhan. "Oh! I just remembered," perked the trader. "Tomorrow's my actual birthday. I hope there's enough cake to put that many candles upon it." "I do not understand," noted the Progen woman. The Pakkrat explained Terran birthday traditions as the pair freewarped through New Edinburgh and Inverness sectors to avoid being seen as little as possible. Soon enough, the pale gas planet was seen. The Trader and the Warrior descended into re-entry of Inverness Planet. In the solar system of Tau Ceti, Inverness Down was once an atmospheric research station that had been re-purposed for the storage of Terran capital ships and minor gas mining. But with InfinitiCorp's acquisition of Arduinne Planet, far more rich in gasses, Inverness Down became a neglected ghost town of sorts. "Ghost town?" asked Siobhan again puzzled by another of the Pakkrat's explanations. "An unused shell, neglected after its former usefulness," said the Pakkrat. "The station is always in a state of slow death by disrepair and badly-needed supplies that the corporation often overlooks." The formation of the two ships entered the upper atmosphere of the thick clouds of the planet. Instantly, rain of some unknown liquid pelted the two vessels. A storm had moved into the area and drenched the pair. Using instrumentation from the *Labyryinth Runner's* mapped records, the two made way though erratic winds. Sheet lightning played across the highest portions of the lower atmospheric clouds below the ships. The electricity lit the skies from below eerily. With virtually no visibility ahead, the Pakkrat had to navigate by his map alone and his ship's scan telemetry. Before the Pakkrat was ready, the gargantuan, atmospheric station was revealed as the formation penetrated a final, dark cloud bank. The station loomed far overhead and stretched down, deep into the lower atmosphere. Though it was a massive and impressive superstructure, the Terran could see its age showing in the technologies of its era. It was aging and nothing evidenced to convince the trader otherwise. As the pair were on final approach of the docking facility, he was surprised to see the hangar shield still working in this storm. Lightning lit the skies below again as the two slowed their ships into the docking bay to land at a hangar berth. The pair exited their craft and made way from the hangar which reverberated from the thunder outside the station. Inside the main lobby, the Terran man and Progen woman went straight to an analysis terminal. Focusing the massive computer on the two Ancient artifacts, Siobhan helped by inputting the names of the respective devices. Some scrolling through systems was necessary due to the old software the antiquated station still utilized. "This station is almost as old as I am," said the Pakkrat as he continued to match the names with the devices. "But a station, even as old as this one should have updated its database even so." "There," said Siobhan who first spotted a match in the menu. "That one and several below in the list is the second one." "The aa Gamik An Ne and aa Uhtag An Ne Ancient artifact devices," quoted the Pakkrat as he punched up the entries for each. The database had noted less than ten of the strange and arcane devices of that tech level ever discovered. "Pretty rare," he said. "Ravenlock was right about their being partial weapons. Look." Siobhan read the entry then said, "I can see now why Ravenlock was unhappy with you. The 'Uhtag' has the Ancient power to cripple weapons while the 'Gamik' has the ability to speed up your own rate of fire. The two are very dangerous in the right hands." She pointed at the second entry to the aa Uhtag An Ne device. "This must have been the source of that bright, white beam that struck the Bio-hunter when we were attacked in Jotunheim. It crippled the vessel's beam weapon that should otherwise have truly tested your shields, Terran." "Good thing too," the man said. "You were still running for your ship." "Now that we know the general capabilities of these two artifacts," began the Warrior, "what about this P3889 that Amah mentioned being the 'key'?" "There isn't a galactic network terminal aboard Inverness Down but I know, as an employee of InfinitiCorp, where he is," said the Pakkrat standing up from the analysis terminal and turning to Siobhan. "The Psis are in Aganju, 61 Cygni, being used as mining personnel for weapons grade ores deep underground of the planet. Perhaps this P3889 can be found in that sector of space." The pair waited out the storm over dinner in the lounge of the old station. Because the mining facility and junk yard was rarely visited, the two ate together with no one else present. The entire station barely rated more than the smaller stations that had no docking amenities, despite its size, classification, and duties to the Terran capital ships the pair had heard were derelict beyond, somewhere in the storms of Inverness Planet. "This key, the man called P3889," asked Siobhan, "Do you think that using the weapon as Amah suggests to stop the prophesized genocide will work?" The Pakkrat answered darkly, "That's the trouble with prophecies of madmen and time-space-struck women." He swigged his drink then continued, "There is a net terminal at Aganju's space station, Kinshasa-Mbali. We'll see what we can dig up using my credentials as an InfinitiCorp Merchant Prince tomorrow." * * * *In orbit above Inverness and hidden from all, the **Andromeda** waited patiently for the pair to re-emerge from the storms. DeWynter knew she could not descend with such a huge, space-born capital ship into such gravity. Only de-commissioned vessels were sent to be slowly picked apart in the junk yards of the planet below. She knew the Pakkrat would have to come back this direction so her ship could follow him once more.* *"Learn, Pakkrat, what I want you to do for me," said the InfinitiCorp COO to the image of Inverness through the forward bridge view ports of the black capital ship.* She stood over his sleeping form. Though the old station was quite antiquated, it was not spartan in the sleeping quarters they had acquired. The Warrior had entered unannounced and stood, silently watching the Terran man. The merchant seemed to be a deep sleeper. Again this night, Siobhan had paced about her own room, thinking. When she had had enough counsel with herself, the Progen woman had found herself at Pakkrat's door. When the trader did not answer, she let herself into the room to be assured he was secure. Before her was the man she had been assigned to keep quiet, to keep from getting into deeper trouble with Vinda and the Sabine Order. But in doing so, Siobhan had infiltrated to brazenly contact the Virtuals, escaped Progen space with the trader, committed Republic espionage into Sabine Order records, Freespacer grave-robbing, fought pirates and Bio-hunters, and was taken on a new experience of the 'date' with this man. She mentally ran down the list of adventures this 200-year old man had given her. The trader rolled over in his sleep, taking most of the thermal blanket into an amusing cocoon about him. Should the prophecy of the greatest warrior of the Centuriata, Amah be true, this Terran would spend his birthday murdering another Terran in the name of preventing genocide. Cuinnit Dougal had thought the key to mankind's survival was to destroy the now time-space locked hero. Who knew if the Ancient device, mated to the prototype Dark Matter missile launcher could penetrate the strange and alien field about Amah? And now she had pointed the trader at this Terran Psi, P3889 as the key to stopping the loss of millions of deaths on a planetary scale. She had not told the Pakkrat everything, given that she had to paraphrase from the journal. If the Pakkrat could stop this strange prophetic chain of events, whether or not they were being manipulated, lives without the boon of the Call Forward were at risk. More than twenty million Terran Psis lives were on one end of a scale against the life of one Terran Psi. The logical processes of Siobhan's genome would have naturally chosen the many over the few. Though they were Terrans, a race unlike her own, the Progen woman saw that it was the sleeping man before her who would have to make that decision. Tomorrow, this man would kill one or kill many in inaction, regardless if this was prophecy or some society or entity's manipulation. Given what he had explained about Terran birthday celebrations and how it was a time of happiness and life's continuance, Siobhan felt a twinge of emotion she could not identify within herself for the slumbering Pakkrat. Quietly and aided by the controlled movements of her Combat Trance, Siobhan removed her armor and uniform. Laying her gear down beside the empty side of the man's bed, she crept gently into the bed beside him. Some urge inside the First Sabura, the mother-of-sorts to a new breed of Progen warriors with a conscience, decided to give some form of companionship to the man sleeping next to her. Was it some Terran deep dream he was having that allowed him to remain blissfully asleep as she huddled to his tall form and wrapped her wiry arm over him from behind? She could not bring herself to fall asleep, so she did the best she could all night to give him solace that her urge suggested. In this way, Siobhan also comforted herself in this action, though she could not yet understand why this contact was reassuring. She watched him sleep the entire night. * * * This was his room, right? The Pakkrat opened his eyes in time to see the Progen woman, Siobhan getting up from the bed, his bed. He lifted his head to watch her dress. When she looked at him and saw him watching her, she merely smiled knowingly and silent, then continued gathering armor pieces. The trader did not feel like he'd gotten lucky, so he soaked up what little he could as the Warrior dressed in her uniform and began to clasp on her armor. Like any of the Progen race, Siobhan was genetically perfect in body. She was shorter than most Progen Warriors, but still lithe and muscular. Her dark tan was evident as it slightly contrasted with her sandy, light-brown hair. The woman took time to re-tie her pony tail and let it twine itself in her signature double-helix spiral down her perfect back. The dragon green eyes seemed to have a bio-luminosity all their own as she looked at the trader again. Perhaps it was vision enhancements or some trick of the dim light in the room. She certainly had no trouble moving about in the shadows. She moved around the bed to him. He opened his mouth to speak, but she hushed him with a finger over his lips. "A birthday gift and no more," she said quietly in a whisper. "Happy birthday, Pakkrat." Then she retreated slowly with a gentle smile upon her tanned face. Her hair threatened to cover those eyes which seemed to know something the trader did not. She left him alone in the room in a daze of wonder. The storm had passed in the early morning. The Pakkrat found the Progen Warrior in the lounge. A breakfast was waiting for the trader. The two ate as the man watched the woman then bring over a cupcake from the meal dispenser. It had only a pair of candles. Using a mini-tool flame torch, Siobhan lit the two lights and put the birthday treat before the Merchant Prince. "I don't sing well," Siobhan said, "so I hope this will say it better." "Why only two?" asked the Pakkrat, indicating with a pointed finger the candles. "You were born to the Crystal Age two years ago, despite your previous life," said the woman. "And I'm not going to hunt down two-hundred candles and light them all." "And you, Siobhan?" asked the Pakkrat. "How many candles are on your most recent birthday cake?" Siobhan was about to answer, but then protested with, "Is it not impolite to ask a female her age?" "Not fair," said the trader. "You get to know how old I am." "I have lived many Progen lives, Terran," admitted Siobhan. "And unfortunately, I have recently regained precise memory of all of them. But if you must know..." The Pakkrat waited for it, but the warrior held up her gloved hand to display three fingers. "Three?" asked the man with a puzzled expression. "How can you be only three and look so- um, developed?" Siobhan looked around the lounge to catch sight of a few station workers going about their routines. Then she returned her gaze to the Terran. "I was Called Forward a little over three years ago, but that time is too private to share," she explained. "Progen can be Called into fully-grown bodies if they choose to Answer the Call at all. My gene-map is the same, I just returned somewhat as I was when I was-....when I last fell." The Pakkrat saw how the woman had become serious in her recalling of her past. He let it go and just smiled down at the birthday cupcake. "Thank you, Siobhan," he said. "It's very nice." Then he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath to blow the candles out. "Did you make a wish as per Terran birthday traditions?" asked Siobhan. "Yes," purred the Pakkrat, "but I'm not allowed to say what that wish was." Having fully-identified the Ancient artifacts, rested and eaten, the couple left Inverness Down in a much brighter, yet thin overcast of an Inverness day. Their two vessels made the orbital gate with ease and were quit of the planet. As they crossed Inverness sector, the Pakkrat had to admit that this was the best birthday he'd had in well over two-hundred years. He smiled as he freewarped the Praefect and his ship to the system gate to 61 Cygni. Instantly leaving behind the Tau Ceti system, trading it for the binary star system of 61 Cygni and it's rusty-red nebula named the Menorg Swarm, the pair gated to Aganju sector. With the twirling closure of the star gate's rings, the Pakkrat beheld the planet of the same name. Aganju was still in the initial stages of terraforming with a single, large settlement that was slowly infecting the surface with green of plants and irrigations. But the trader from InfinitiCorp had learned that it was the mines deep below the surface that were the real cash cow of the planet. Aganju revolved around 61 Cygni A, the larger of the two binaries. In orbit above the planet was the second largest space station the Terran race had ever built, the largest being of course Earth Station. It was at Kinshasa-Mbali Station that ores from Aganju were transported for refining, packaging and shipping back to InfinitiCorp, the major shareholder in the entire project. Additionally, a sport for hunting nommos, a space fauna of migrating herds about the two stars, had cropped up at their territorial interference of shipping out of Kinshasa-Mbali. It was also here that the fresh and steady stream of Terran Psionics, indoctrinated by the Terran Ramirez Codes from a very early age, were processed and assigned to duties throughout the solar system. With their particular gifts, the Psis were sent here to mine Aganju and the other planets for weapons grade ores, search for psionic resonances and assist in the further exploration of the binary solar system. The Pakkrat had also learned that while the face of operations was headquartered at Kinshasa-Mbali, the unfortunate Psis were routed through a dismally frigid and neglected platform named Xai Xai. From InfinitiCorp, to Psionics, to EarthCorps security, many Terrans had a stake in the sector. Whether it was business, industry, social sports, or staging for the dwindling Cygni Wars in Moto against the Progen Combine there, there was always traffic in and out of Aganju. Though a hub for commerce, 61 Cygni A was still a newer acquisition for InfinitiCorp and the Terran Alliance. Given the sector's infancy, Aganju's borders enclosed the smallest area in known human space. Only two of the four InfinitiGates here were fully operational. The third, the sector gate to Thelugi Rift was shut down after the infamous Battle of Thelugi Rift. The last, star gate was yet to be completed to a new solar system in the same constellation, named Sanctus Kyrie. Psis were behind schedule in opening the new egress. 61 Cygni B, connected by the Moto corridor sector was still largely unexplored though the Sabine Order Sentinels, (at the illegal invitation by GETCo) had given the lesser half of the binary star an initial and superficial survey. Then the Cygni Wars had started and the Sabine were forced out of the system by the conflicts of the Progen Combine and the Terran Alliance. The two stars were connected by the red nebula, the Menorg Swarm also largely unexplored. Since the space station was situated in low orbit with the nearby system gate to Tau Ceti in high, geostationary orbit, the Pakkrat used impulse thrust towards the massive superstructures. This gave him time to see the richness of the sector. Though he had been here a handful of times, the trader decided to have a better look at the developing beauty of 61 Cygni. Asteroid fields of all types dotted the skies out to the limits of his scanners. Wanting to take a deeper look, the Terran man engaged his onboard devices. One of the Anicent devices, the aa Uhtag An Ne in particular, played a humming or droning sound as it interfaced with the Terran vessel. Instantly, more fields, objects and even the distant Progen Warship Genesis, seemingly dormant on-station, was revealed to the *Labyrinth Runner*. As the trader reached a holding position to wait for a turn to dock from the control tower at Kinshasa-Mbali, he slowly spun about to have another, improved look at the sector. Backlit by the closing, spinning, hexagonal rings of the system InfinitiGate, was the shadowy form of the most sinister, black capital ship the Pakkrat had ever beheld. It was long, aerodynamic in shape, without a single hard edge anywhere on its smooth surface. Small, oval bulges covering the hull of the dark craft looked to conceal huge capital-class weapons. The targeter on his cockpit locked onto the midnight vessel, but no identity came from any transponder. It was if it did not exist to normal sensors. "Pakkrat," said Siobhan, "we can dock now. It's our turn." "No we can't, Siobhan," answered the trader whose ship was still pointed at the huge, enigmatic vessel. He looked at Siobhan next to him in the formation. Just beyond her vessel was the space station's observation deck and lounge. A single Terran man was standing at the transparent, panoramic view ports to the sector outside. The man, a Terran Psi, was looking directly at the Pakkrat's ship, at the pilot in particular. Finally, as if these two were not enough, red warning blips on his radar were silently pulsing. Too many to count, they were approaching on separate vectors that collectively pointed at the *Laybrinth Runner*.
  6. The Thule Project - Ch. VII by Pakkrat VII. *"Just hold here and maintain full stealth," ordered the Lady DeWynter. "I have a feeling that we will see the rat return soon."* *The secretary saluted a Progen salute and added, "Yes, Mistress." Joga then turned to relay the order to the bridge crew of the **Andromeda.** *The black capital cruiser slowed to a halt twenty clicks from the Hyperia staging yard as the two, small vessels entered the artificial wormhole generated by the bookworm, Loric's gate. There was no chance that, under its stealth, the Hyperia Faction leader and scientist could spot her ship.* * * * Against stereotype, the Pakkrat led the way into Roc, the only explored sector of the Deneb solar system before collapse of the Appian Gate. The series of nav-bouys that were spread over this region were done hastily by the original explorers that had followed after Amah, desperately searching for the lost Centuriata responsible for the original opening of the Appian Gate. The space here was barely lit by a rust-red nebula. Pakkrat was joined immediately after by the pink Warrior vessel, the *Kitten*. He sat a moment before the Appian Gate's twin here in Roc. While Siobhan scanned for threats, he used his own devices to stretch out his own scanners in hopes of finding the lost Centuriata. "Is there some clue in the journal, Pakk?" asked Siobhan when she could find no immediate threat in her scopes. "I did not have time to scour the entire journal, but Dougal did put in a sketch from his supposed dreams," answered the Pakkrat. The researcher had scribbled a set of coordinates and a general, hand-drawn map of his dream-Roc. Dougal had even hastily drawn a mythical, giant bird that seemed to label the sketch though there were no words on the drawing. "Dougal forgot to label the sector it seems, but this drawing seems to elude to some coordinates," noted the trader. "Let's try this direction first." The formation turned and thrusted about on impulse velocities spinward into the sector from the dormant Appian Gate. The pair passed pristine asteroid fields as they searched. Siobhan spoke up at seeing these, "I think we are in something analogous to Sol's Kuiper Belt. Look, the navs transponder their names with the term 'Kuiper'." The Pakkrat nodded and continued his flight. Then he stopped the two vessels' formation. "I think," he said, "that I am reading this wrong." "What do you mean?" asked Siobhan. It was clear that the trader was reading the numbers off the sketch. "I think that Dougal got the X and Y coordinates backward. There's nothing here." Then the man steered the pair to a different direction. "Either way, the two should be near each other. The two back-tracked a little in the new direction. Soon, the Tradesman and the Warrior ships came upon a strange sight. On the scopes and the targeter was a rust-red Progen ship seemingly powered down, its engines without life. But stranger still was a dodecahedral field about the ship. It was made of lines of light. It encapsulated the vessel completely. The main running lights of the Progen vessel displayed still the honeycomb-fist symbol of the Progen Republic. But on closer examination, the bridge of the ship was dark. "I detect one life-sign, Terran," said Siobhan as she monitored the scanners while the trader closed the gap with the ship and its cage of light. Still the ship remained motionless. "It's comms are still active," noted the Pakkrat. "Should we attempt to hail it?" "I don't see why not," said the Warrior, "but use a tight lasercom beam instead. Let's not be loud here." She looked about the area. "This doesn't feel right." After the Freespacers, the Pakkrat decided to take Siobhan's advice. With a one-to-one lasercom beam, he hailed the vessel. The beam passed through the field about the red hull. A black-haired Progen woman with adornments on her forehead appeared on the communications monitor. She was dressed in Progen armor but without any clothing between her and the protective gear. To the Pakkrat, seeing such a clad Progen woman was moderately provocative and yet unsettling given that Progen did not dress to be attractive as a general rule. "I am Amah and you are one of those who tried to kill me. Who and now Does Memnon try again or were you send by someone who believes as he does?" The speech was strange, distracted and disjointed with clashing tenses and speaking of things that had not happened yet. The Pakkrat hazarded to identify himself with, "I am in need of help. You are Amah, who opened the Appian Gate?" Amah looked distant, through the Pakkrat as if he were not present at all and as if she were pontificating alone, "I did....with Kahn's blessing. Touch now the truth that saturates us all. There is another reality beautiful and complex. Look to it." The signal went dead as if the Progen hero had stopped the line of communications. Pakkrat looked to Siobhan and shrugged. "I got nothing." "Let me," said the Warrior next to the Pakkrat. Siobhan fed what she received to the Pakkrat as she engaged a similar lasercom beam to Amah's ship. At the hail, Amah's face appeared again. But she gave no sign that she recognized Siobhan or that she had just been hailed seconds ago. "I am Amah and you are one of those who tried to kill me. Who and now Does Memnon try again or were you send by someone who believes as he does?" The Pakkrat whispered to Siobhan, "It sounds like a recording even though she's right there at the bridge communications console." "I am Centuriata Praefect Siobhan, Amah," announced the Progen. "We have come seeking you." Amah looked once at Siobhan and then up to her viewport at something further distant before saying, "Go back......this place is dangerous." At that, the Pakkrat checked his scanners, deepened as they were by his devices. There was nothing on the scan sweeps. Siobhan tried to keep the hero woman's attention, "Amah, is there someone else here?" "Yes Yes No No Yes No No Yes," stammered the black-haired Progen. "Return the way you came....Deneb is not the way." Again the communications went dead as the strange Progen cut off the connections. "I think she is trapped in that field," said Siobhan. With a four clicking sounds, the Pakkrat heard Siobhan take off the safeties of her weapons. Alongside her movement to target the light shell about Amah's ship, Siobhan was spooling up a particular weapon signature to the Centuriata. "Let's see if we can free her from that enclosure," declared the Warrior. "Siobhan wait-" cautioned the Pakkrat, but he was too late. Weapons fire shot over the short distance to the shield. Explosive rounds clouded the dodecahedral field, obscuring it for a few seconds. A white beam shot from her Warrior vessel playing across the surface in an attempt to sap its way through the strange energies. After several seconds of continuous chain-gun fire, Siobhan halted her weapons. Amah's ship remained still within the light cage that showed no sign of weakening. "Siobhan stop," implored the trader. "I don't think conventional weapons are going to work here." "What technology is keeping her in there?" asked Siobhan. The Pakkrat hailed Amah again. She greeted them as before, "I am Amah. Return the way you came.....it is not safe here." "We are trying to free you from the shell about your ship," said the Pakkrat. Amah seemed to see the Pakkrat as if from the first time she had encountered the trader. "The crew was not their fault....The crew was unavoidable." It was as if she did not remember the pair's earlier hails. "Amah," interjected Siobhan. "How can we free you?" The Centuriata hero again looked distant as she spoke with a growing smile, "There is a reality of another order, the implicate...ultimate..a truth we once suspected which should have died in war in lies which choked on science which lives in spite of everything..the numinous..the heirophony..shown now in gates..the codex itself..and the world that shakes....FOR THIS I BLAME THE PSIS...." Then, as before, the communication line went dead. To the Pakkrat, the Progen woman was too far gone or strangely trapped, perhaps outside time since she was greeting the couple anew each time. He looked at the Warrior beside him outside his starboard viewport. She too was looking at him with a questioning look. Then his sight dropped down to his own ship's wing. There, mounted just underneath it, hung the dark matter launcher. To the trader, it seemed hungry to be used again. With the small stack of ammunition left and the now two Ancient artifacts mounted, the Pakkrat asked himself a deadly question. "What about this?" he asked more to himself. "It seems that this is what has been made available." He took the safety to the weapon off. "Pakkrat no!" rejected Siobhan. "You can't use the power of the Ancients to free Amah. She seems trapped in a bubble of space-time. That is not a shield, Pakkrat. It's...something else. "Whatever trapped her in there is most likely not an Ancient, Siobhan," pointed out the trader. "We could break the field with these two 'aa' in conjunction with the launcher." "But then you might kill her in doing so, Terran," explained the Warrior. "Remember what happened to the Bio-hunter? That black stuff destroyed half their vessel and given enough time would have eaten the other half." The Pakkrat checked himself, but then hailed Amah again, he listened to her greet him again by identifying herself once more anew. Then he asked, "Amah, how can we free you?" "Do not...attempt.....a cowardice," she said and continued with, "P3889 is one of the keys.....destroy him....they are coming." Again she had stopped looking at him and past him. A proximity alarm lit up and demanded attention. Both the Terran and the Warrior checked their scanners. There was a mass of many ship-sized objects on the extreme outer sensor range. They were closing fast without signature warp cones or warp wake trails. "Run!" said Siobhan. "Those are not ships!" Pakkrat spun the formation back the way they came. Since his travel devices were still in place and his best engine bolted down, the *Labyrinth Runner* was only inhibited, barely, by Siobhan's slower ship beside him. The two ships barely had time to align before shooting from the vicinity of Amah's ship. Over the communications receiver came a insect-like squealing and humming sound from the many objects. They formed words somehow and spoke. "TRANSMISSIONISTRAVELLINGATSPEEDSGREATERTHANTHESPEEDOFLIGHT" The trader did not for a second try to decipher the sound and gunned his vessel to maximum warp back to the Appian Gate. "They're chasing us! Go Go!" called Siobhan. Ahead the still-dormant Appian Gate in Roc, Deneb sat quiet. A series of grayish beams struck both the escaping vessels. But there was no damage and their speed was undiminished. Pakkrat risked a split-second to look over at his shield matrix strength. It was not weakened. "I think we were just scanned," he said. "Let's get the hell outta here." "They're closing," said Siobhan. Her ship began spooling up a Gravity Link beam. She was trying to slow down the darkened objects chasing the pair. "Hurry!" With a focus driven by fear, the Pakkrat leaned on his ship's Terran Advantage engine. Ahead the Appian Gate drew closer while the cloud of objects hounded them forward. "Please work," whispered the Pakkrat to himself and the sleeping Ancient Gate. He fed the opening song through the transmitters and filtered by the two Ancient devices still mounted adjacent to the dark matter launcher. Siobhan's Gravity Link beam struck several of the lead objects, illuminating them in their brown-black glow. They looked like green, gray, purple and ruddy brown insect-like spaceships with glowing green stripes where a cockpit or bridge might be located. Several of the strangers struck by her brown-black beam fell behind the initial wave. The sight of them was a shock to Siobhan because she yelled at the Pakkrat, "Get us out now!" The song-transmission seemed to be acknowledged by the long-dormant Appian Gate as the eight crescent shapes lit up and expanded as they slid in circles to their proper shapes. Several more of the grayish scanning beams struck the paired vessels as the Ancient stargate opened to swallow the two ships. The two were pulled out of warp by the slow gating approach via impulse. Directly behind them came the cloud - no nebula - of the alien things. An ear-piercing screech was heard over the communications systems of the gating pair. It was nerve-wracking to slowly enter the gate as the swarm closed in on the two at warp-like speeds. Still more of their beams struck the pair and played over the hulls of the Tradesman and the Warrior. Then they were gone from Roc, Deneb. * * * Siobhan's heart was pounding. This must have been what fear felt like. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced in any previous iteration life she could immediately recall. She had always prided herself and her race's fearless, death-defying leap into the dark breach between life and Answering the Call Forward. But it was this encounter with the unknown that removed that confidence, stripping her of the surety that if she had died, her gene-map would have been found and reclaimed. The sensations that played over her heart mixed with the images she saw when her Gravity Link beam revealed the horrors that had chased them. The Warrior's hands gripped both her horizontal control sticks; her fingers begged to shoot something, anything to rid her of what she alone had beheld. She had landed back in real space just outside the collapsed Appian Gate in Lagarto, Gallina. A second or two passed in the fear-filled eternity before the Pakkrat arrived. His ship was unharmed, but Siobhan engaged her Combat Trance out of a desperate need for stability and willingness to go down fighting. "Don't move, Pakkrat," the First Sabura warned. Before he could ask, she said, "We are in a gravity shear and a radiation field. Look at your shields." Siobhan looked down at her shields in the formation status on her heads-up display. The emissions from the collapsed Appian Gate were slowly draining the matrix as it fought to keep out the harmful radiation. Yet, she could not merely warp out due to the fact that the gravity shear was also a deadly well preventing warp speeds. The two were caught in a slow death and had to crawl the gauntlet of dangerous radiation and gravity shear that threatened to rip apart their ships' hulls. The Pakkrat gently slipped his Tradesman into a new formation and let Siobhan lead. She turned the formation carefully and made for a distant beacon that was their only exit from the deadly field. With their shields strengths slowly declining, the Warrior pushed the formation at slow impulse speeds towards the beacon. The beacon, placed immediately after the discovery of the Appian Gate's collapse, was an accelerator gate. When activated, the accelerator could use stargate-like systems to slide a vessel across the same sector of space instantly through folding space temporarily. It was not a true wormhole but rather similar to the Jenquai who were able to fold space with their strange systems. Siobhan just had to get the formation to the beacon attached to the slide-gate. Yet, the sounds of tearing bulkheads and crushing armor gnawed at them as they made way. Siobhan overheard the Pakkrat's ship computer, a female voice say, "Hull integrity at twenty-five percent." "Stop, Siobhan. Stop," called the trader. "Let me patch us up before we continue." It was a blessing of the Tradesman-class vessel from InfinitiCorp that its tractor beam was so precise that it could effect on-the-fly repairs to hull as well as tap its reactor in a shield-recharging action that renewed both hull and shields. Here in this current environment, it was a boon that Siobhan prayed thanks to Vita Theodora, the Progen mother in spirit. "Hull repaired," called the Pakkrat's computer. It was followed immediately by a *RE-VAMP* of the formation's shields recharged. Soon, the two attained the slide-gate. Activating the accelerator, the formation found itself hundreds of clicks outside the dangerous gravity shear and radiation fields. Without a word, the two hastily left Lagarto sector the way they had come. Fear of their experience on the far side of the galaxy was still too upsetting and made all the more insistent given the slow pace they had to adopt to escape from the vicinity of the Appian Gate in this sector. During their transit from Gallina back to Aragoth, Siobhan risked a question to the trader beside her in the warping formation, "Pakk, were you scared?" He looked her from the communications monitor. "Of course." "How do you deal with it?" "Deal with fear?" asked the Terran confirming the context of the question. Siobhan nodded. "Well, I'm no adrenaline-addict or any thrill-seeker so I'm certainly not one to embrace fear," said the trader driving the formation. "But neither am I one to avoid a healthy dose of common sense and humility when warranted." Siobhan clarified with, "But once you experience this - fear - what next?" "Well," thought the Pakkrat aloud, "once I've dealt with fight-or-flight reflexes of survival, I have to stop, remind myself that I'm okay and that things will get better." "You call these thoughts up to delude yourself?" asked the Sabura. "Well, I don't see it as delusional but rather optimistic thinking," explained the trader. "You see, clear-headedness is better achieved through a positive attitude than brooding on the negative aspects of what cannot be helped. Fear grips the heart, but it is an emotion we deal with regularly. So, we just attempt to live in the now, put one foot in front of the other and keep going rather than freezing up, incapable of thought, other emotions, causal decision-making or action." Siobhan nodded and admitted, "I have never felt this 'fear' before, Pakk. We Progen are immortal through the Call Forward. Yet, it was the unfathomable that I nearly froze upon." "Fear of the unknown," corrected the Terran. "It's the most powerful fear known - the unknown." The First Sabura, in that moment, had an epiphany about herself. In being iterated as a Sabura Warrior, Vinda's ideal Warrior matrix possessing a conscience, she had to accept that the new warriors would also take on feeling fear. Siobhan considered this and then knew what she would next teach to her new generation of fellow Sabura. "Thank you," she said gently. "For what?" asked the pilot in the Tradesman next to her. She was about to thank the Pakkrat for teaching her to deal with fear, but changed it to, "Thank you for getting us out of Deneb. If we had not been in formation when you gated, I would have been left back there with those....things." "You are welcome, Siobhan," the man said. "You have helped me too, y'know. I thank you too. You have risked all to talk to your Virtuals. You haven't killed me yet, because I know I rub many the wrong way eventually." "What makes you say that I ever wanted to harm you?" asked the Warrior. "I don't believe in coincidences, Siobhan," said the Pakkrat. "Our way has been laid down before us by someone or some things that are pushing us onward, playing us. Too many things have been spoon-fed us to keep us going in this little rat race." Siobhan, after mentally translating the figures of speech asked, "Then what kept you from shooting Amah back there? That thing, backed by the power of the Ancients could have possibly shattered the alien cell about her ship." "It could have also killed her as you pointed out," answered the Pakkrat. "But a weapon, even at rest, begs its owner to be used. Anyone with an ego can feel the power a weapon offers. It takes a man -present gender included- to use a weapon, Siobhan." "You mean the weapon wants to be used?" asked the Warrior. "But despite being railroaded by this adventure's benefactors, we still have free will," answered the Pakkrat side-stepping her last question. Siobhan changed back to the means the trader had used to allow them to escape Roc sector. "How did you get the Appian Gate to open, Pakk?" "Something Amah said," began the trader as he opened the next star-gate into Muspelheim sector. "Do you know how when you flash a laser into a holograph plate, no matter where it strikes the plate, an image is produced?" asked the Pakkrat before continuing. "The entire plate, end to end, side to side has all the information of the produced image, so that the laser initiates the image regardless of its incidence. The whole is contained in even the tiniest parts. I applied that principle to the signal through the Ancient artifacts to 'Befriend' the Appian Gate. If it heard the call of the Ancients, through a piece of them, then I felt that the holograph principle would apply there too." "I still do not understand," said the Siobhan with confusion in her voice. "Look," said the Pakkrat. "Remember what they said about the Codex Shard, how it was supposedly a piece of the larger original and how any bit of the original had all it needed to open an Ancient Gate?" "That was never tested," said the Progen woman. "This time I had the right combination, but had to mask my 'voice' as one of the Ancients," explained the Pakkrat. "It's hard to explain but with the addition of the Ancient artifacts, I was able to Befriend or sleaze our way through." "You fooled the Appian Gate into somehow accepting you as an Ancient?" asked the Warrior incredulously. "I doubt it would work with a fully functioning Ancient gate, but since the Appian is damaged or collapsed on one end, it seemed worth a try. Seems the thing wasn't in the mood to argue this time." "Strange, but at least we are alive and returned," sighed Siobhan. It was too much but there was no denying the Pakkrat's desire to survive. "Another issue, Siobhan," said the Pakkrat. "We can't tell anyone we've been to Deneb. We'd become instant targets for the entire of humanity and unable to hide anywhere. All would want to debrief us, dissect us, or otherwise pick out brains." Siobhan stumbled over the last strange saying but asked him, "But what of the aliens? What of Amah?" The trader answered the second question first, "Amah is outside time and space by that strange field about her. She keeps meeting us for the first time. I imagine that she will be the same age whenever she escapes from it. As to the aliens? They didn't follow us and they merely scanned us. We were only chased from that side of the galaxy. Now that Loric and Hyperia have a functioning gate, let other explorers get scanned and chased." Siobhan felt helpless to aid Amah but returning to Roc was futile. "What now?" "Amah said that a 'P3889' was the key to - I dunno - saving humanity," said the Pakkrat. "P3889 is a designation for Terran Psis, a particular Psi as each has a different numerical designation. But the Psis are on the far side of human space and we still don't know exactly what these two Ancient artifacts are or what they do. Neither do we know why they seem to have an affinity to the weapon. It's not an Ancient design. Any ideas?" Siobhan, across her many remembered iterations, recalled memories of explorers finding lesser, framed crystals of the Ancients. She told the Pakkrat how a Jenquai researcher was the only known person to supposedly identify the devices. The Warrior related that those with the devices had to travel to Jenquai space to present the find to a Jenquai woman named Ayako Ravenlock. "Where is this Ravenlock person then?" asked the Pakkrat. "Paren Station, Kailaasa - above the new Jenquai homeworld," answered Siobhan. "Ugh. More travelling," said the trader. "Let's go."
  7. The Thule Project - Ch. VI by Pakkrat VI. Siobhan had to admit that his Terran knew how to make a run for it. Rather than return to Venus, which was swarmed with pirates, capital ships and the Venera Highport, (a den of all sorts); the trader rushed forward through a little travelled exit from Sol. The travellers emerged into Pluto and Charon. The Terran then swung his down and to the right as the next gate was directly adjacent to their entry stargate. With but a turn, the pair were through the distant sector of space an on to the Kuiper Belt which was home to the Ancient Akeron's Gate, the first discovered stargate that was the source of so much exploration, commerce, war and history. Then adding a simple transmission, the pair were shunted immediately to the sector with the same name. Akeron's Gate, the sector, was in the deep reaches of the Kuiper Belt but still close to Pluto and Charon, so distant from Sol's sun. The pair entered the strange sector of space from the coreward end of the sector and the trader flew directly for the Ancient gate to Aragoth system. Siobhan watched on the monitor as the Pakkrat repeatedly, as if by some instinct, looked over his shoulder and out his cockpit bridge view port. "What is wrong?" she asked. "I don't know exactly," answered the man. "I feel rushed or goaded. It's like I said earlier about someone stepping on my grave. I think we're still being followed or herded onward." Looking at her scanners as the formation arrived at the Ancient stargate, Siobhan could detect nothing of interest but the icy asteroids of the Kuiper Belt, the huge and historical gap in the Belt torn away by human history and the gate itself. It stood there, stacked up like eight, green crescents upon each other. This was their dormant position, as they were first discovered so long ago. There was nothing else she could detect. "I think you are developing a hair-trigger, Terran." He chuckled, but the Pakkrat countered, "Progen have their sayings too. Maybe. Maybe I'm being paranoid after acquiring the weapon." The Terran then transmitted the signal, a 'song' or series of frequencies that Akeron's Gate to Aragoth recognized and acknowledged. The eight crescents lit up with their blue beams and spun and swerved in great circles about each other. There was a great hissing whisper, almost a collection of voices and animal-like vocalisations that accompanied the gate's opening. "Did you year that?" asked the Pakkrat who looked stunned as he watched the ancient portal come to life with its wormhole rimmed in blue, flickering plasma. "Hear what?" ask Siobhan. "The gate? Yes, of course, Terran. Everyone hears the strange sounds from the Ancient gate when it opens." "No - well yes - but I heard something else," said the Pakkrat. "It was a woman or some female. She said for me to 'take the shot' or something like it." Siobhan gripped her controls on her ship. With but a thumb-flip and a trigger pull, she could have all her weapons firing. "I heard nothing like that, Terran." Then the portal wormhole was fully opened and the two entered Akeron's Gate to Aragoth system together. Again Pakkrat looked on edge to the First Sabura Warrior. As soon as they were fully inside the Ancient Gate, the pair found themselves in Freya, the first sector of Aragoth system. Siobhan had flown through Aragoth many times, both as a Centuriata Courier and a few more in this life as a Sabura Warrior. Freya was the 'front' doorstep to the shared system of Aragoth. The three races, Jenquai, Progen and Terran had divvied up the new solar system under the Glenn Treaty. The three races to this day continued to explore the vastness of the new solar system. "On your map," displayed Siobhan, "I have noted the sector gate to Jotunheim. If you like we can stop at Arx Ymir to rest your nerves, Pakkrat." "Oh sure," chuckled the trader again nervous. "I've slept in quite a few Progen stations and that one is near the bottom of my favorite crash pads, Warrior." "We won't 'crash', Terran." "I - I meant to find a place to sleep. To 'crash' comes from 'crash and burn' or fall into bed and sleep deeply from exhaustion." "Did everyone speak as you do in your era, Pakkrat?" "Only us annoying Terrans. The rest were quite clean-spoken." "I think I see," concluded the Sabura. "Let us at least register there in case things become truly dangerous here in Jotunheim. The Freespacers can be a bit reclusive to a fault." It was a small matter to register at Arx Ymir. With the exchange of Information Friend or Foe transponder codes, the pair were registered without having to dock at the fearsome fortress of the Dog Soldiers stationed aboard. Siobhan had to remind herself that the Pakkrat was not Progen and thus perhaps had heard enough rumors of the retired program to unnecessarily fear them. She herself, in another life during the Gate War, had been a Dog Soldier who took part in the siege of Jove City in Jupiter sector. The atrocities she could now remember were not to be shared, lest the rumors and fears become truth and night terrors for anyone outside the Progen race and Republic. Thus, the two passed under the towering and imposing crimson structure of Arx Ymir. Siobhan advised the trader to take his mind off the space station, "Take the coreward route around Jotunheim. What we are looking for is on the far side of the planet." The Pakkrat winged the formation to port. Then he followed her guidance around the ringed planet Jotunheim in the colorful shadow of the gas giant Odin Rex. Against the blue bands of the king planet, the grayness of Jotunheim was icy and barren by comparison. Yet, Jotunheim had its own draw from the miners. The ring bands were rich with valuable ores from silver, to gold, to platinum and more industrial metals. This of course came with the challenge to the miners to stay aware of the herds of arctic drakes that claimed the rings as their territory. In this knowledge, Siobhan guided the Pakkrat's path to cut a wide swath around the planet via the nav-paths. Eventually, Jotunheim revealed more secrets than just mining claims. The Terran noted the passing of of wings of more than just miners. There were craft here that claimed allegiance to the Chavez pirate cartels. Siobhan assured him that the destination was of no interest of the Chavez. The Freespacers kept little of value to the various galactic pirate clans and kept mostly to themselves. Freespacers, Siobhan had learned in her travels as a Centuriata Courier were originally humans from earth that had left in colony ships from Earth, to embrace life in the deepest parts of space, forever adrift. They had shunned the political, corporate and ideological patterns of Earth throughout the Space Age and into the current Crystal Age. The original families were joined by later generations who flew out to join them. Siobhan had learned, via her new authority as the First Sabura, that the Freespacers were looked down up on by Vinda and the Sabine Order as humans who "did not make the cut" and were slowly eroding themselves with their isolation. The less they behaved like citizens of the galactic community, the further the galactic community wrote them off as something other than human, not to mix genes with. Thus the Freespacers were seen as example of what to not become as humanity spread out into the galaxy. Claiming no territories and drifting between planets in ships and the occasional space station facility or platform, the Freespacers were the nomads of the galaxy. Viewed with rarity and suspicion, the hermits and recluses were an oddity whenever they docked at a 'civilized' station. They never made landfall on a planet as a rule. As Siobhan ran most of this to the Pakkrat who listened intently, the Sabura Warrior made sure her weapons were fully loaded. What she did not frighten the Pakkrat with was that there was a dark side to the Freespacer original families who took to the depths. Some of the first flights of the exodus went so deep as to develop quirks and tendencies forced upon them by the need to survive in times of thin sustenance. A few of these families developed cannibalism and a habit of harvesting human and fauna organs. They turned on anything that moved when things became desperate. Soon, those that had gone completely native cannibals and hunted humans were called Bio-hunters. These barbarians, to Siobhan at least, were a quiet secret that the Freespacers would have like to keep quiet and deal with on their own. It was when those Bio- and gene-hunters began attacking living humans for their organs, genes, and selling them in fringe communities of Freespacers that the rest of humanity, Jenquai, Progen and Terrans began to fear them. Most Bio-hunters flew in single, paired and trios of predatory vessels. While many Freespacers travelled in vessels built for long hauls with plenty of cargo, the cannibals flew interceptors and attacker ships. It was a new plague upon humanity that had done this thing to itself. To Siobhan, it was genetic degeneration and she despised any creature that would eat of its own kind or harvest body parts and organs from the living and the dead for commerce or the consumption larder. While the Sabine Order Reclaimers sought fallen gene-maps of fallen Progen, at least it was not to put them up on the black market or to eat them. The Bio-hunters were more feared than the pirate clans. Pirates accepted your surrender of cargo and let you go onward. The cannibals took your ship, its cargo, your life and then they feasted. They let nothing go its own way. Thus, everyone in the galaxy either ran from a sighted Bio-hunter or fought them to eradication. In this, Siobhan did not share such with the Pakkrat for fear of disturbing this chase for the truth of his peculiar story. Siobhan doubted the Freespacers would even mention their degenerate and distant cousins to the Pakkrat. She allowed the trader to fly onward to the remote, overlooked and strange nav-bouy of the Freespacer Void Moot. Soon the odd beacon was before the pair who dropped out of warp early to gently approach the gathered few ships there. The beacon was a solar powered, large shield unit that emitted a pulsing field of a deep blue color and itself glowed a vibrant orange. Floating in space, it was surrounded by the brassy ships. Siobhan was relieved to see that there was not a full moot of a hundred or more ships. Rather, there were a about ten or so vessels of the hermit, depths probes present. As the formation of a Terran and a Progen approached, the Freespacers seemed to take notice only by making room to orbit the odd nav-bouy. None hailed the new arrivals. "Now what?" asked the Pakkrat when it was readily apparent the Freespacers were not going to acknowledge them other than navigational safety. "Hail one and talk to them, Pakkrat," encouraged Siobhan. "They speak their own dialect but will still answer you. Just be friendly, like most Terrans." "That I can do," said the trader with some confidence at last. It was a strange skill to watch as the Pakkrat, a member of the Terran trader-caste, (though they did not term it so as did the Progen), used the Befriending techniques of appearance, approach, and pitch-tone of voice to ease those they came into contact with. It was not an easy skill to engage, Siobhan noted as the Pakkrat spoke. The very few Freespacers that deigned to pay attention to the Terran Tradesman, seemed to grant him at least their time. But soon enough, he had those few exchanging information. The trader then paid them in standard credits via a transfer of galactic-assured data-script. The gentle, marketing language the Pakkrat used had acquired the information and Siobhan had caught only most of the full conversations with the grateful hermits. If she had not seen it performed before, back when she was a courier for the Centuriata, the Warrior could have mistaken it for some form of social psionic discipline, possibly gleaned from Terran Psionics or "the gifted". When the communications were at last severed, Siobhan called to the Terran, "What did you learn?" "I learned that the Freespacers barely kept records of their deaths beyond individual family trees." "Family tree? As in groves of trees?" The Pakkrat smiled at another failed connection of terminology, "No, you might call them genetic family genome lines, Progen." "Oh," blushed Siobhan. "But the later diaspora were given more care and welcome as they joined the Freespacers already present. Joining clans and families warranted better documentation." "And the doctor, Dougal?" asked Siobhan. "He lived out the rest of his days among the Freespacers. They gave me his burial coordinates on an asteroid. He took no family of his own and died a true hermit alone." The Pakkrat paused a second as if considering his next move. "We have to go to his crypt and see if there are any clues. The clans here reported that he took some personal effects to his grave with him, like some Egyptian Pharaohs." "I see. Terran humans are strange. They try to take material things with them to their post-life," noted Siobhan. Progen released all their material possessions to the Republic and with pride awaited the next opportunity to Answer the Call Forward. There was no pride in dying aside from the dignity of serving once more once Called. "Well, we Terrans have a ways to go it seems," conceded the Pakkrat, "even in this Crystal Age." With the coordinates to a distant location far to the fringes of Jotunheim sector, the Pakkrat freewarped the two ships without much more than an estimate of its distance. Siobhan had to trust in the Pakkrat's navigation skills as this route and vector from Jotunheim made the planet grow smaller in the growing distance. Soon even the rings of the planet were barely detectable on her ship's scanners. "Boy, they do like to bury them in the dark," said the Pakkrat as he gave the controls the command to drop out of warp speeds and began to thrust about at impulse thrust. Neither being exploration-class vessels, the Tradesman and Warrior ships took some time flying about the distant asteroid field, searching the rocks and hydrocarbon deposits for the largest "coprolite in the sandbox" according to the Pakkrat. Another of his sayings, the Siobhan let it go and continue to scan the area. Panning their exterior lights about and double checking their scanners for human-made angles and structures, the two made their way though the field. At last, in the gloom of the rocks and hexagonal shards, the huge asteroid revealed its silhouette to them against the king planet of Aragoth system, Odin Rex. It was a barren and unremarkable asteroid with no crystalline adornments or attractive veins. It seemed to Siobhan that the buried human dead welcomed their forgetful resting places without any form of grandeur. Death to them seemed a quiet end, unlike her fellow Progen who had something forward to expect. It was saddening that Terrans accepted death as a finality of existence. She had to shrug it off when the Pakkrat spotted the small necropolis of squat crypts of long-dead Freespacers. The two ships pulled up to hover above the site. Exiting their craft, again in EVA spacesuits, the two pilots stood in the entombed graveyard arrayed over the surface of the asteroid. In an alien landscape given her Progen race, Siobhan out of a Warrior's habit un-holstered her Athanor heavy pistol. The Pakkrat saw her do this and asked her about it. "Siobhan," said the Pakkrat, "everyone's dead here. Why the gun?" The First Sabura noted his calm and tried to nonchalantly respond, "Precaution only." This seemed to draw just a shrug from the man as he went about searching each crypt for the name of Dr. Cuinnit Dougal. Was it luck or just happenstance that the Pakkrat got a break from difficult searches of recent times, asked Siobhan inwardly. It was under a couple of minutes before he called her over to the squat crypt marked with the researcher's name. He looked at her with a curious, regretful look before asking her to help him crack open the hermetically sealed crypt. Even though the small, single-man stone container was slowly emptied of air, to preserve the contents with as little damage as possible, a tiny zephyr managed to escape as a tiny cloud. Shining her vambrace torch into the crypt, Siobhan revealed the long-dead Dr. Cuinnit Dougal. To her, this was but a shell that had not been recycled into the regenerative sequences of the Sabine. But to Terrans, the Warrior knew that it was so much more to the Terran beside her to defile such places. This was so because he gingerly avoided touching the long-ago depressurized corpse therein. When her torch passed over an old leather bound journal next to the thigh of the dead researcher, a glint from below it gave visual report. She lifted the journal carefully and revealed the orange-gold, octahedral frame of another Ancient artifact. She looked at the Pakkrat who returned her surprised reaction equally. Finding a second Ancient artifact in less than two days was unheard of in these times and both knew it. The Pakkrat lifted it up and away from the corpse, careful not to disturb the husk of the Dougal corpse. It was dusty as the particulates of the air inside the crypt slowly settled as it let out air over the decades. He rotated it once or twice in his hands before brushing off the surfaces of the frame that held another mysterious crystal in its shell. There was little to say that was not already on their facial expressions. Then an alarm on Siobhan's vambrace made her jump with surprised fright. It was a personal combat application in her vambrace's forearm PDA. It was a motion detector. Set to alert her of movement greater than a few meters away, its alarm continued to pulse at her. She stepped back and leveled her heavy pistol at the same time she checked the display that demanded her attention. "I thought you said everyone here except us was dead," she said quietly to the Pakkrat. "I did say that-" returned the trader who was looking at her PDA over her shoulder, trying to see what the alarm was for. She cut him off. "Don't move," warned Siobhan as she pivoted in the indicated direction of the movement. Then when faced in the correct position, she touched her faceplate, right between the eyebrows and closed her eyes for a full second. She had begun the Combat Trance, a discipline of the Centuriata and through them bequeathed to the Sabura Warriors via Vinda's decision to keep the skill for her brand of Warriors. Her free arm still held the Athanor heavy pistol which was now connected to her weapon-arm's vambrace that held a larger magazine of pistol ammunition. Her armor was primed for a firefight. Then the motion detection program detected more movement. She took the safety off the weapon. The Terran was just behind her with the artifact and the journal she had handed to him at the alarm's first report. Syncing the detection program with her armor's myelin-fiber, black jumper, her arm moved, almost on its own, to point the weapon at the first, closest target. It was coming closer at about 50 meters. She bent her knees a little and dug in her stance. Though in the back of her mind, Siobhan had heard of entertainment vid-sims of horror stories of Terran dead come back to life, she put them further back as the Trance set in and she was primed to kill. "There's not supposed to be anyone but us here," whispered the Pakkrat gently. He must have studied her stance and known something of what she was doing. Then the rush came. Six humanoid shapes in the gloom revealed in shadowy silhouettes as Bio-hunters armed with two-handed tools meant to open crypts. The first one barked a phonetic that was unfamiliar to Siobhan. It hardly registered so calm was she in the Combat Trance. When the grave-robbers were within ten meters exactly, the Combat Trance made deadly precise by her armor, Siobhan began firing. In the vacuum of the asteroid, the normally sharp pound of the weapon fire was muted and only registered in her spacesuit as a dull thud. The recoil of the kicking weapon was, via the armor's myelin fibers spread over her entire body. It knew, each time she pulled the trigger where and when to go rigid in order to soften the weapon's recoil. Thus Siobhan gunned down the first attacker to rush the pair in under two shots and before it could cover a meter towards them. The Warrior and the suit then changed targets as one and continued firing the heavy impact rounds from the pistol. She barely noticed that she was kicking up dust as her armor transferred the recoil energy to the dust-covered ground around her. The second target dropped at eight meters, the third at seven meters. Without a round spent uselessly, Siobhan's armor would not let her pull the trigger of the Athanor if the shot was not perfect. This happened when the fourth Bio-hunter ducked behind a squat crypt. The fifth and sixth enemy did likewise seeing the first three drop so quickly. There was more of the strange dialect from behind the crypt. All the same, the First Sabura kept her aim at the nearest movement beyond the two meters about her. "Back to the ships, Terran!" she ordered imperatively. When the Pakkrat bolted to his hovering Tradesman, Siobhan began moving. She knew this would spoil her exacting aim, so she opted for a suppressive fire tactic as she began retreating. The fourth Bio-hunter peeked up over the squat crypt and her suit picked him off, right between the eyes. Then her Combat Trance was spoiled as she ran behind the trader. Seeing her run, the Bio-hunters gave chase with their angry, slurring speech calls. Ahead as she ran, Siobhan saw the Pakkrat signal his ship to allow him entry. He could run fast on those tall legs, she noted. In a flash, he was aboard the *Labyrinth Runner*. It would take him a second to get seated in the cockpit bridge and get the Tradesman moving. The Sabura woman ran toward the *Kitten* when the vambrace alarm rang again, a deeper tone. An unknown ship was coming from behind her, over the horizon of the asteroid. Her PDA warned her, recognizing the shape and configuration of the Bio-hunter interceptor. Just a few meters more and she would be in range of her vessel. Above her, the Pakkrat's ship began to pivot towards the incoming interceptor. There was a bright, white glow from the backside of the prototype launcher as power was fed from the Tradesman's reactor to the weapon. The glow illuminated the entire side and wing of the InfinitiCorp ship as three things happened at once. In a split second, a single, coherent beam shot from the launcher to the Bio-hunter ship, less than a click away at point-blank range. Second, inside the blink of an eye, the launcher was bathed in ultraviolet exhaust of the missile that shot from the weapon. The Pakkrat had fired on the Bio-hunter. Lastly, her own ship called her inside it. She entered and jumped into her pilot's chair. She did not get to see the missile explode. She grabbed the double, horizontal sticks of her helm and swung the *Kitten* to face the Bio-hunter ship. Targeting the ship, Siobhan saw that the grave-robbers' vessel was covered in dark matter from port wingtip to its port fuselage. The strange substance was destroying matter at the quantum level rapidly without explosions. Sparks and gasses erupted from the gaping hull as the Bio-hunter returned fire. But there was a hazy white field about the target that spoiled the exacting beam weapon that shot the trader's ship. Though the beam landed, it merely tested the shield instead of truly trying it earnestly. Siobhan guessed as she pulled her triggers that it had something to do with the white glow and beam from the Terran vessel. Her chain-guns rattled deadly explosive, prototype rounds at the Bio-hunter which at first rammed at the shield of the interceptor. But with the rounds overloading the shield, it was the second volley of other missiles from the Pakkrat's ship that passed the outer shield. Another beam shot the Tradesman, again weakened by the white field about it. Was it the Ancient artifact? Finally, the Bio-hunter's shields were down and already the enemy was overmatched by the guns of the Warrior and the third volley from the Terran trader. The rounds and missiles continued to pound until the entire ship exploded in an energy wave that pushed on the two ships. "Travel gear!" called the Pakkrat again in the lead position. "I've got another on my scanner. Let's get the hell outta here!" Over the comm-screen, Siobhan could see him hit two buttons on his console at once. Her vessel, the *Kitten* was blessed by the Tradesman with heightened engineering as she scrambled to replace her combat devices with warp-enhancing gear and navigational supplements. The other button called upon his reactor to recharge his shields. *RE-VAMP!* reported his shields. She could see in the group status display, that the *Labyrinth Runner's* shields were back to maximum as the formation spun for the vector in which they had come. "Go!" she called once she saw her devices had properly seated. The two shot into the night from the necropolis asteroid. * * * *The pair were underway to Odin Rex as the **Andromeda** slowly trailed behind leisurely. Onboard, on the bridge, the Lady Isabel DeWynter played back the recorded telemetry of the second battle in which the Pakkrat had used the weapon.* *"By my guess, the dark matter is mistaken by normal, defensive shielding to be non-existent and therefore not a threat," noted the Lady out loud. Joga, near her and also monitoring the recording nodded in concurrence. De Wynter continued, "So, since the weapon is not a threat, the shields don't deflect it."* *"An impressive weapon, Mistress, that would put Terrans decades before all others in the arms race," added the Progen female secretary. She remained stoic the entire playback.* *"I want it," said DeWynter, "but first I want him to use it on the cause of all this mess."* * * * "I still don't see why the hero Amah is involved, Pakk," said Siobhan as she flew the lead position in the formation. The man from North America, Earth had been skimming the leather bound journal of the late Dr. Cuinnit Dougal during the trek to distant and strange Lagarto sector. He took a bit to answer, but the Pakkrat came up for air. "Siobhan, something was goading Dougal to forge the weapon. The same force or forces also provided him everything he needed. It's right here in his journal and notes, like he won a lottery or something." "What is a lottery?" asked Siobhan whose voice searched him for another new word from his past. "You know, a lottery," said the Pakkrat pausing again from the journal. "It's a random drawing of numbers or characters in hopes that a match from contestant population will determine a winner." "Such charity," noted the Progen woman, "would be unnecessary in the Republic. All are given everything they need to serve. Beyond that is merely a matter of exerting a little more effort to earn what what desires." "Well look at when and where I come from, Warrior," said the Pakkrat. "True." "Dougal assembled the weapon at the whim of whatever or whomever was driving him," recounted the trader. "But how could they have known about your Progen Amah hero so distant in the future? It's like Dougal's benefactor knew the future." "Hence why we are on our way to ask her?" asked Siobhan. "We also need to stay well away from InfinitiCorp, GETCo and Progen space if you've forgotten that you are the one who talked to your Progen Virturals machine," reminded the man. "We are begging for reclamation," said Siobhan. It was his turn, so he asked, "Reclamation?" "You might say, back in your era, that we are digging our own graves, Terran of the Space Age." "Oh," nodded the Pakkrat. Then he continued reading in the dead man's journal. Arriving in far-off Lagarto sector in the Gallina solar system, Siobhan halted the formation after gating. She turned to the Pakkrat, "You do know that since the collapse of the Appian Gate, that the route Amah took is nigh-unusable." "Something that was said back at Earth Station leads me to think otherwise," disagreed the man. "Did someone speak to you?" "In a manner," answered the Pakkrat. "Just hug the rimward fringe of the sector as you travel spinward. I've learned a thing or two in my short time here in the Crystal Age. I find paths that others write off." "A wonder that you are not one of Hyperia's Scouts," said Siobhan. "Yes, but I ride just behind the explorers most days," smiled the trader. The formation traveled past the gravitational anomalies, wrecks of spaceships, fields of silent asteroids to the outer edge furthest from Lagarto Planet and its two moons. Siobhan was verbally surprised at the little-known fact that the gravity wells did not inhibit travel all the way out to this extreme range. Soon, off the starboard bow and some distance away, the passive scopes acquired targets of a small space station and a construction yard. As the formation drew closer along its own track, the structures looked Terran in make. Rounding the rimward - spinward corner of Lagarto sector, the Warrior and the Terran beheld a massive third structure that gleamed like a new InfinitiGate, yet it was most assuredly not from the corporation of that name. The station facility hailed the two ships as they approached carefully. Siobhan answered the call. "Welcome travellers to the Hyperia Office and Construction site of the Hyperia Gate to Deneb. This is restricted space under the flag of Hyperia. Would you identify your vessels please?" It was a male voice, familiar to the Pakkrat who answered first. "Merchant Prince Pakkrat onboard the *Labyrinth Runner*, sir and we have need of passage to Deneb," said the trader in response. Siobhan added her own identity, "Praefect Siobhan of the Centuriata aboard the *Kitten*, the Pakkrat's wingman in this journey." Pakkrat looked over at the bright and hot pink Warrior vessel and spoke to her, "Kitten?" "Hush, rat," countered Siobhan. The station's signal displayed a younger man who stood on the monitor, wearing work technician's overalls. Many instruments and tools filled his pockets. He adjusted the lens goggles on his head. "I am Loric de Grey, administer of this Hyperia project and let me say that unless you can somehow re-open the radiated and dangerous Appian Gate, your trip is in vain. Even my Hyperia Gate is not ready to go online. I still lack the right type of crystal of inverted matter planes and crystal lattice structure...." Loric rattled of another five seconds of technical jargon totally lost on the Pakkrat. "Sir, I - that is we - being men of hard empirical evidence don't believe in coincidences," cut in the trader. "I may have what you are looking for." "Pakk, what are you doing?" asked Siobhan. "What did you bring me?" requested Administrator Grey. "The load in one of these warheads of this missile may solve your problem, sir," said the Pakkrat as he tractored a dark matter missile to the station. It was received and a minute went by with no exchange. The man then turned to Siobhan. "Do you believe in fate, Warrior," asked the trader. "I believe I make my own way as I serve the Republic, Terran," answered Siobahn. "Good," said the Pakkrat. "Then we agree that we are being goaded, not by fate, but whatever was also driving Dougal back in my day." "Eureka!" called Loric de Grey interrupting. "The inverse planes of this sample perfectly match the negative energy needed to focus the plama ener-" "Will it make your Gate work sir?" Pakkrat had no time for technicalities. The trader wanted to be on the far side of this gate. The hairs on his neck were starting to stand up again. He looked over his shoulder and out a viewport at the starry sky behind the formation. "Well, there may need to be some preliminary tests but-" Loric tried to explain. "We need to go to Deneb now. You have what you need as our fare." "Well it's your funeral, sir and your gene-map, ma'am." "Progen do not fear, Administrator," said Siobhan. Many construction robots swarmed from the Hyperia Office to the staging yard where the new Hyperia Gate stood dormant. Lights came on and illuminated the prototype stargate fully. It gleamed with new technologies unlike the two newcomers had ever seen. In minutes, Lorics robots had included the dark matter into the systems of the Hyperia Gate's field emitters. Pakkrat did not want to think much further into how it all worked. His worry was that the pair were somehow still being hounded, either by the force that guided Dr. Cuinnit Dougal or the thing or things that were raising his hackles. He took the lead position in the formation and flew to the entry vector of the Hyperia Gate. The Pakkrat saw gating systems come online and his sensors detected a power build-up. The Hyperia Gate was spooling up its wormhole to Deneb! Then the gating option appeared on the pair's targeters. The Pakkrat took a breath then pressed the actuating button to begin gating. The formation drifted forward slowly, into the field rimmed in plasma. "Yea though I walk through the shadow of the Valley of Death..." Siobhan finished with, "....I shall fear no evil, for I am the baddest mutherfucker in this Valley." "That's not how the origi-" said the Pakkrat before being interrupted by the gate to the far side of the galaxy.
  8. The Thule Project - Ch. V by Pakkrat V. Though there was no initial trace of the comet that had stranded the elder *Labyrinth Runner*, the space of Ceres/Thule was becoming more and more familiar to the Pakkrat. He noted the massive asteroid Ceres which greeted the awakened sleeper once more. Strangely, the rocky body featured a crater that was coated in ice, an indicator of an impact in the past. The old nav-bouys of Ceres/Thule were still functioning, though they looked aged and neglected. They were spread across the sector in a reaching S-shape, with Ceres at the upper, spinward terminus and the other planetoid rock, presumably named Thule at the other, trailing end. "Do you remember your entry vector to this region, Pakkrat?" asked Siobhan as if the detail were a tactical analysis of the trader's plight more than 160 years ago. "Yeah," answered the Pakkrat who continued, " I was caught from behind by the comet's tail as I and it entered here on the coreward border." He spun the new *Labyrinth Runner* and over the course of minutes he began re-tracing his flight path through space so long ago. "There were comet rocks hammering the hull all around," described the Pakkrat. "The first to go was the warp drive when a huge one took it offline. Then more and more systems went red. I could not out-run the comet. This entire area was thick like a cloud with ice and stone." The Pakkrat flew on toward Ceres on impulse thrust as he had so long ago. Looking to Ceres ahead he made a connection. "The comet must have been caught by Ceres after I shut down the hauler inside a porous asteroid." He could not say why inwardly, but he looked over his port side shoulder at Thule, the rocky planetoid. He felt like he was being watched as the hairs on his neck rose. He shrugged of the tingle and continued his flight by saying, "land of the unattainable..." It took over an hour for the Terran to lock his targeter on the correct asteroid. It looked cracked open like a ripped sponge of black and gray minerals to get at the derelict ship it once housed. The drones had done a powerful job of gaining access to the salvage. The site was stationary at a LaGrange point between Ceres and the Eris nav-bouy. The site's details became clearer in the Pakkrat's memory as he narrated his attempt to seek shelter here from the comet hail storm. "....then the ship up and died on me with only batteries left," the trader finished. "I cracked open the cargo bay to let the radiation become detectable then went to sleep." "The radiation is long gone by my sensors," announced Siobhan. "We can set down safely now that the comet is quite dead on the surface of Ceres." The two exited after anchoring their craft to the asteroid. In spacesuits, the pair searched the icy site. "The drones were given simple instructions to salvage the ship, but there's still debris all over here," said the Pakkrat kicking over several plates of his old ship's hull. "I just bet that there's still something here that they missed." Siobhan merely nodded and continued searching along the depression that once housed the derelict vessel. Being driven, Pakkrat spotted it first minutes later. It was a heavily shielded cargo container buried in pulverized ice and rock. Only a yellow-and-black hazard stripe was initially visible underneath. It took some digging and exposure to fully appreciate the size of the thing that was once hidden inside radioactive weapons-grade uranium. Depleted uranium slag surrounded the object. It took a diamond saw to cut the frozen container latches free to open the cargo container. With her vambrace torch shining on the contents, Siobhan whistled her amazement. The two gazed a long time over the perfectly preserved items inside the huge container. The largest and most readily recognizable object was some form of missile launcher. Of Terran make obviously during the Space Age, the weapon looked factory new. Alongside the launcher were quite a few missiles as a factory sample clearly to roll out on the red carpet. There were design schematics and even a thick brochure on the weapon. Finally, there was a laserdisc that was attached to the brochure that was only marked with black marker writing saying "Notes." While the Pakkrat picked up the curious laserdisc, Siobhan lifted the brochure and began perusing it. "Terran-made," said Siobhan. "InfinitiCorp presents a new horizon in weapons technology far ahead of its time." She read on aloud, "The Prototype Dark Matter Launcher Tech Level 9 promises to deliver a payload like no other." Pakkrat stopped her by saying, "It's too heavy to lift with just the two of us. We'll have to tractor it aboard my ship. Let's gather this and have a further look away from my former grave." Fully exposing the huge container by hand, the pair then returned to their ships. Then the huge container was lifted by tractor beam to the Pakkrat's Tradesman. While he was checking for system compatibility, Siobhan continued to read from the brochure. "It's some sort of research and development weapon that never arrived at production," Siobhan. "It was to be produced on Earth but by this never reached the assembly line." Pakkrat looked at the laserdisc. "'Notes', huh?" asked the trader to the object in his hands. "I just bet," he wagered to the physical datastore, "that you did not come with the intended package." He slid the laserdisc into his old player and made sure Siobhan was included. Outside the formation, the rocky planetoid Thule featured in the distance as they thrust from the old resting place asteroid. The two watched their monitors as a Terran man with red hair became visible in the playback: "To whomever opens this recording," began the red-haired researcher. In the background of the man was a laboratory of some Terran facility. "When the corp discovered that I was onto something.....something huge and far ahead of its true time, they wanted it. This thing is not for the likes of InfinitiCorp, nor anyone in this day and age. I don't believe I was intended to ever see this prototype tested either. It's too big for even me. I named it the 'Thule Project' because of its far-off and distant, unattainable nature. The thing should never have come to me, in my dreams. It is a weapon and is beyond anything I've ever seen in these times." "When," continued the researcher on the recording, "the design came to me in my sleep, I knew at its completion that I had to get rid of it. It is a weapon and the strange artifact that was buried in the dark matter on the Thule asteroid should never have been unearthed. The design fitted it perfectly and still had room for two more. It was like a coincidence had found its mark. The dreams I endured from.....I don't know where or when, welcomed the ancient thing as if they were meant to work together in tandem." The Pakkrat paused the recording to have another look at the missile launcher. In the cargo bay, he scrutinized the ammunition feed. There were three slots, cradles, or mounts for devices. One was presently occupied. "What is it, Terran?" asked Siobhan who was apparently watching the recording. "It's there on the launcher," answered the Pakkrat. He could see it clearly. It was an Ancient artifact, an octahedral diamond of orange-gold metal alloy that housed or framed a large crystal of some mineral. It was inert at the moment and did not emit any light. It sat cradled by the prototype launcher in one of three slots. It lent whatever was written in its quantum-level containment in the lattice of its crystal structure to its host weapon. Ancient artifacts, labeled 'aa' and often accompanying some odd name in an unknown language were archaeological treasures found throughout the galaxy by pilots of the Crystal Age. The Trader had no idea yet what this particular artifact was or its function, but he could guess it had something to do with augmenting the weapon. Many framed crystals like this large one had been found. Certainly not the largest the Pakkrat had ever beheld, it was in the upper echelon of the Ancient family of odd devices. Each aa-device was a treasure and priceless. The man from Earth could only guess that this one, mated to the Prototype Dark Matter Launcher was meant for compatibility to Terran technology. But its exact function was unfathomable. "What is on the launcher?," asked Siobhan. "Mounted to the weapon is an Ancient Artifact, Siobhan," answered the amazed man. "That pre-dates the first discovered Ancient Artifact by," Siobhan did the quick math, "over 150 years, Terran." "I don't think this was meant to be discovered, Warrior," speculated the trader. "I think this was sent to the researcher on purpose rather than some random find. Let's see what else he has to say." He then un-paused the recorded message by the red-haired man. "The weapon's schematics were included, but only as an estimate of its performance. I never allowed this thing to be tested. I had little time to get rid of it. Everyone would want me to hand it over them for a bonus in pay. They'd kill to have it and the blueprints. I was thus in danger, you see. Even now, I record this message as I make my defection from the corp." "I urge you, whomever you are, to do one thing with it." Here the researcher seemed to adopt a worried look. "The dreams. They had horrible images of something dark out of a solar system - Deneb, I think it was in the dream. Someone will bring down humanity there. Her name is Amah, a Progen I think, and she is the key. If she can be destroyed before she arrives in that dark system, humanity can be saved. I'm no prophet, but that is what I dreamed, not by my choice mind you. Destroy her and save our future. As for me, I'm leaving this dilemma as I escape to GETCo. Dr. Cuinnit Dougal out." "So," concluded Siobhan, "this researcher, Kenneth, he dreams up and makes a weapon utilizing dark matter ammunition along with an Ancient Artifact. Then he has prophetic dreams of Amah, the most decorated Centuriata Warrior in Progen history under Anjuren Kahn, over 160 years before today." The Pakkrat finished for the Warrior, "He and us by extension are being played." Siobhan wrinkled her nose, "Played? Amah is no game, Pakkrat." "No, I mean we are being manipulated by something spanning all this time. Someone is messing with us. Someone clearly really old or with a succession of accomplices." The Pakkrat rubbed his beard again in thought. The man ran down the list of the timeline. An InfinitiCorp researcher receives a discovered deposit of dark matter, a never-before-seen Ancient Artifact and begins to have dreams of making a weapon. Realizing what he had created, Dougal then decides it was too dangerous for anyone, Jenquai, Progen and Terran. To get rid of it he sends it away. Pakkrat ran the idea to Siobhan as he continued to compile the details. Siobhan then added her thoughts, "You then were to deliver the weapon and the device but someone else decided to try to direct you to where they could intercept you and take it. But the comet got to your hauler first." "Finn swore he had nothing to do with it," continued the trader. "He just put the shipment inside some weapons-grade uranium and then onboard my hauler with the shielded container inside it all to hide its presence." Seeing the logic fit together, Siobhan added, "Then you sleep 161 years, waiting for rescue. The *Warthog*, a Progen mining ship arrives and Calls your gene-map, but they too miss the weapon inside the cargo bay, seeing only the radioactive payload. Then they leave Terran space (at the time) and never admit to being there." Pakkrat nodded. He was getting excited to finally get answers. "I get Called, Ravindran turns in my gene-map and gets his in the Gate War. I sleep it off and am rescued here in the Crystal Age by InfinitiCorp because my beacon was mysteriously reactivated. Siobhan, I think that DeWynter signed off on the rescue because she called up some record or something. She could have written me and the ship off easily." The Progen woman answered with, "She has you rescued with an unmanned, probe mission so that nobody discovers what you supposedly have in your ship's hold. When she does not find it, she waits you out. You're the only one who knows what happened during the comet and the route you undertook." She was feeding into this and was almost excited as the Pakkrat. "But then," said the trader, "she didn't get the package. The drones or maybe the miners aboard the *Warthog* dislodged it from the hold." Both of them spoke at the same time. "We're being followed." Pakkrat spoke first after noting the simultaneous, verbal intuition, "Do they know what it is?" "Anything valuable that required smuggling and deception has to be valuable. Very valuable." Siobhan watched at the Pakkrat mounted the weapon, replacing an older missile launcher on a white wing rim of his Tradesman vessel. It looked dark, threatening and mysterious. The feed line to it looked like a serpent burrowing into the wing of the *Labyrinth Runner*. "Who do you think we will find when we leave this sector, Ceres/Thule?" asked the Pakkrat who was looking again at the Thule planetoid as if he were being watched by some deity that was having a laugh at his expense. "InfinitiCorp never got a look at it, but obviously knew that Dougal was working on it," said Siobhan. "Else why did he have to defect in secret? Perhaps GETCo took him in because they could tell he was running and had something to hide." The trader considered a moment, "I bet he didn't tell them what he was working on, but they could tell he was working on something big," "Then there were the dreams to start him off," reminded the Warrior. "Who was it that implanted him with such sleep-telepathy? Surely the Terran Psis of the times could not have. They were to little known before the Psionic Suppressions to do something like have InfinitiCorp make them a weapon." The Progen had some lessons in history, a history the Pakkrat had slept through. "Ancients maybe?" It was a shot in the dark Pakkrat took to make such a guess. Siobhan tilted her head. "Legends and more strangeness. Let us not blow this out of proportion. Yet, something prompted your diversion to this route that incapacitated your ship. I believe we may be dealing with a competitor entity that coveted the weapon. Ancients? Doubtful, Terran." Soon, the star gate to Venus sector returned to view. Pakkrat had purposefully taken his time at impulse speeds in hopes someone else would enter Ceres/Thule, thus exposing themselves as having followed the pair to this sector. None were present when they arrived at the gate. "Anything could happen on the far side of this gate, Siobhan," speculated the Terran. "Then let us prepare for the worst possibility," agreed the Warrior. Then both prepared their vessels for potential conflict once they emerged from gating. * * * *When asked if she wanted the **Andromeda** to enter Ceres/Thule after the employee and his Centuriata escort, Lady Isabel DeWynter opted to stay in Venus sector.* *"If the Pakkrat sees the gate rings start to spin on his end of the gate," explained the Lady, "he will know he was followed and will bolt. I want to watch this next segment. Rig for full stealth and I want scanner telemetry recordings."* *"Yes, Mistress," acknowledged the Progen female, Joga.* The black capital ship in quietus watched from Venus orbit as a small group of the crimson-hulled Red Dragon Dai Lo pirates lay in wait within scan range of the star gate. Signals were eavesdropped as the pirates made plans to liberate any good finds from the pair that had entered Ceres/Thule hours ago. They meant by their eagerness to turn in anything of value to the Tongs and no one would believe that the finds came from the long abandoned sector and route. The Red Dragon ships must have seen from afar the opening of the dormant gate and decided investigate apart from their usual clashes with their chief rival pirates, the Chavez in Venus sector. They were intent on robbing whomever re-emerged from Ceres/Thule. Bridge crew were silently making wagers on the InfinitiCorp Tradesman, paired with the Centuriata Warrior when pitted against six of the Dai Lo Tong of the Red Dragon. Their captain ignored them to observe the eventual encounter. To the COO of InfinitiCorp, the battle that ensued when the Pakkrat refused to surrender to the pirates was nothing impressing. The Warrior with him did most of the fighting as was their kind's way. He, being the most peaceful pawn on the board did little more than try to talk his way out of the situation even after guns on both sides started blazing. The Tradesman even tried to Befriend the Tong with gestures of payment for passage from Venus sector. This did little as the pirates took the gestures for weakness and that he was indeed carrying some imagined treasure beyond any bribe. The Praefect took point in their formation as the Tong swarmed about them, trying to cut off any escape. Only once was the Tradesman forced to use its widely-touted system to lend energy to another vessel in a shields recharging action. The Warrior, though bulwarked thusly, broke no stride in her stream of DigiApogee Prototype explosive head projectile ammunition. She merely swung the streaming arc of ordinance to the next pirate. More of the Dai Lo Tong arrived and turned the tide on the pair. It would be a battle of numbers versus the Pakkrat's reactor capacity. The red hulls of the pirates would eventually incapacitate the Warrior and then turn on the weakened Tradesman. It was only a matter of time. The InfinitiCorp leader bristled at the idea of emerging from stealth to help the employee and hotly denied the verbalized idea with a scowl. Let the Pakkrat dig himself out of the encounter. Rats excelled at living through harsh conditions. Then something humorous happened. The Pakkrat had purposefully allowed his shields to be penetrated and a Tong missile ripped open a section of his cargo bay. Tiny objects began spewing in a small cloud about the pair. Then sensors indicated that the Pakkrat's reactor had somehow received a second wind. He fired once at the un-touched Red Dragon that had shot his vessel. It was a missile, single and with a thrust trail that was violet-to-ultraviolet black. The missile silently covered the distance to the pristine red hull of the pirate. There was no visible report on the target's shield. The dark ordinance passed directly though and landed a direct hit. Telemetry, replayed later, would reveal that the pirate's shield failed to register or acknowledge the incoming missile, ignoring it as a threat entirely. The Red Dragon Dai Lo vessel was destroyed in a single hit by the strange weapon as it was taken down by a type of damage never before recorded. The Pakkrat had landed a blow through full shielding onto the target hull and the warhead overpowered the vessel's structure entirely. Its explosion was easy to see even from their position over Venus. Then the pirates were screaming to each other over communications that the tiny objects in a debris cloud were their coveted Mahjong game tiles. They instantly forgot the pair, forgot the one-shot-kill of their comrade and all pirates immediately started scooping up the tiles with hungry and individual tractor beams. They then assumed that this was the 'treasure' taken from Ceres/Thule, the sector the pair had emerged. But the Lady knew better. She immediately demanded of her crew the recording of the weapon that the Pakkrat had utilized. This was for her and her secretary's eyes only. This was the treasure of Thule! A perfect weapon if the telemetry was to be believed. The Lady ordered the *Andromeda* to follow the pair which had warped away from the chaotic looting pirates. But rather than escape to the safety of Asteroid Belt Beta and its SolSec neutrality, the pair veered off to the distant gate to Mercury sector, the closest planet to Sol's primary. It was a curious path and the Lady quietly wondered at the Pakkrat's decision-making. Mercury was the general territory of the Good Earth Trading Company, or GETCo for short. The only facility of note was StarClipper Station. Perhaps the two meant to acquire repairs there. But for the InfinitiCorp capital ship, it would have to run silent a while longer as it trailed the Pakkrat. * * * "Why did we leave?" asked Siobhan to the Pakkrat in the lead position. "We could have taken them. Did you not see what that missile did to them?" The Pakkrat, again freewarping to arrive at the sector gate to Mercury responded as he transmitted the request to the gate's opening, "I have less than a stack of this ammunition and I only fired it on reflex when he opened my hull." Siobhan suspected a half-lie from the Terran. The Merchant Prince must have had more reason than that to do what he did. "Then you did not mean to fight them at all. Why did you not tell me that was your intent when we gated to Venus?" "I don't think we were alone," answered the Pakkrat. "I can't explain it but ever since seeing Thule, I've been suffering someone walking on my grave." "But you are not dead, Terran." "No-," the trader had to stop and explain, "I was getting intuitive feelings of being spied on." "I think I now see your strange saying," said the Warrior. "The pirates were not the only enemies?" "I can't say for sure," mumbled the Pakkrat then raising his voice, "but we were wasting time with the pirates. I let them hit me and take the tiles. I told you I had a good stack or more of them collecting dust. It was enough, is all, to get us out of there." Some time later, after reaching the far gate to Mercury sector, the two gated there and travelled onward to StarClipper Station. Like Aragoth Station, the research facility near the planet Mercury was heavily shielded with large, treated metal plates used as a deflector for the incoming solar radiation winds. The station here was Terran in design where Aragoth Station was largely a Jenquai construction. Hosted and sponsored by GETCo, the Trader and the Warrior were greeted by automatic welcome messages from the company as they docked. Detecting the hull damage to the *Labyrinth Runner*, station repair robots immediately swarmed the ship to assess damage and conduct repairs. This would of course deduct a fair amount from the Trader's credit account. The Merchant Prince sighed every time his earned finances took a hit. It was almost personal between the Pakkrat and the rest of the universe. Inside the facility's main lobby, the station was divided between those researchers, technicians, station crew, and a news desk affiliate of Net-7 News. The pair made way inside. All about were busy people, going on about their tasks, duties, projects, and the press was ever present, yearning for a scoop. While Siobhan split off to a manufacturing terminal to assemble ammunition for her ship's weapons, the Pakkrat went to the lounge to use the network terminal. An attendant from the hosting company greeted him. "Welcome to GETCo's StarClipper station," the woman in a business suit said with a corporate smile. "Hi there," returned the trader. "I need help finding an employee of GETCo." "Is he here aboard the station perhaps?" asked the employee lady. "I doubt it," answered the Pakkrat. "He said he was joining GETCo to continue his life's work." The attendant stepped up to the net terminal to cycle a few menus. "Do know the name of this employee?" "Yes," said the man from Earth hopefully. "His name was Doctor Cuinnit Dougal and he was in research in development when he left his old job." "Was?" noted the attendant more as a statement than a question. "Let's see," she said as the scrolled through rosters on the holographic display with her hands. Soon, the woman had the name up and called the file on a separate display. There was the red-haired man from the old laserdisc. He looked a little worse for the wear to the Pakkrat's eyes. There was a nervousness to his demeanor in the image. "Seems that this Dr. Dougal came to work for GETCo over 150 years ago, sir," noted the lady. "I think you are a bit late to meet with him. It says here that he disappeared from his job and was suspected of stealing GETCo property. Authorities tracked his movements but never apprehended the researcher when he escaped aboard an outbound Freespacer Void-liner to the deep reaches. This of course was back before the discovery of Akeron's Gate. Whereabouts unknown. End of file." The Pakkrat rubbed his beard again in thought before asking, "Any idea what was stolen?" "There is no listing but given the priority of the doctor's capture, I could guess that he either made off with something very valuable or a lot of something not-so-valuable." The attendant then turned on the trader. "You are from InfinitiCorp, right?" "Yes," answered the Pakkrat. "Why?" "Aren't you that guy that IC rescued a couple of years back from a derelict ship?" The woman was scrutinizing the Pakkrat now. "Yeah and the insurance money is still held up in courts," said the Pakkrat, "Thank you for your help, ma'am. I have to go now." He left the attendant promptly. It felt good but not good enough that he was remembered by anyone who was watching the news at the time of his awakening from that coma. Yet after the search for Dr. Dougal, the Pakkrat felt like a corporate spy now. Hastily, he made way back to the hangar where Siobhan was overseeing the last of her ordinance loaded into the cargo bay of the *Kitten*. Siobhan saw the trader's imperative step toward her and asked at his arrival, "What did you learn?" Pakkrat cleared his throat nervously, "Dougal went to work for GETCo and by the look of it got into trouble with them too. He took a one-way ticket on one of those old Freespacer Void-liner ships into exile when it was discovered that he had stolen something from them. Something big in the way of expensive." "He may have had the item with him when he escaped," conjectured the Warrior. The last of the ammunition was loaded. The pair then entered their respective ships and began to undock. "But back in my day," explained the Pakkrat, "the Freespacers didn't have any stargates. They did things the slow and hard way." "We will have to ask some Freespacers then," said Siobhan, "perhaps at one of their gathering places. I hear they do so every so often to have a moot-meeting of their families." "Have any ideas where they gather?" "Just one. Let's go." Siobhan moved to assume the formation's lead position, but the Pakkrat stopped her. "I'm driving. This is important." The Progen woman seemed mildly surprised, yet she let the Terran man lead. Siobhan locked navigation computers with the Pakkrat's and said, "To Jotunheim then." Then she sat back and let him drive. The two shot from the blaze of the sun. Rather than backtrack, the Pakkrat took formation forward, beyond StarClipper Station to the sector gate to Pluto and Charon on the edge of the Sol system. Again the trader from Terra freewarped in a direct line across the sector, cutting as much time off the journey as possible. * * * *"They just left StarClipper Station, Mistress," reported Joga to her Lady DeWynter, "but they took the back route to Pluto and Charon sector."* * DeWynter smiled. "Of course he would," she said. "He wants out of Sol before anyone learns of what he has on his wing. Follow him, but let's stay as quiet as possible. I want to see how GETCo came into this. He didn't just dock here for repairs or else he'd have left already."*
  9. The Thule Project - Ch. IV by Pakkrat IV. "I don't get it," said the Pakkrat as Siobhan led the pair of vessels from Varen's Girdle, through Aragoth Prime and further sectors back towards civilized space. "Why did you stop me and why did we leave? Couldn't you have leaned on him, y'know, point a gun at him or something to get him to open up?" "Pakkrat, the Progen does not fear death," explained Siobhan. She tried to further explain. "We were not going to learn anything more than what he told us. You see, Talus-N Ravindran does not remember what Talus-M Ravindran did." "I don't understand." "When he Answered the Call Forward, the memory of Calling your gene-map was excluded from his matrix - on purpose, I believe." Siobhan continued seeing the Pakkrat still listening. The formation raced onward. She needed to put some distance between the pair and the Sabine Order. "Memories can be voluntarily left out, especially if too traumatic to the Progen. I too once gave up memories of past lives during which I had done terrible things for the Republic. Only recently have I been given them back through Jenquai psionics. But that is another story. The Specialist does not remember Calling your gene-map because the Sabine Order knew this was heretical and against ethics. They let him Answer the Call without that memory." "We departed because now Talus-N will start asking questions to his Sabine Order and I want to be well away when he does not get his answers." Siobhan was pleasantly surprised that the Pakkrat was still listening to her as she continued, "But we do have enough of a lead. The Specialist made a confessional to the Virtuals on Mars before he fell during the Gate War." "Again," asked the Pakkrat, "what are these 'Virtuals'?" Siobhan continued to explain, "I was about to cover that. Listen, the Virtuals are the recorded personalities of all the past Primarchs of the Progen Republic. They are kept in a vast computer on Olympus Mons, Mars. They hold the sum total of all Primarchs that have ever led the Republic. Only a Primarch or the Sabine Order can access the Virtuals. It is an almost sanctified privilege of the ruling Primarch and the maintenance of the Sabine Order entrusted with the upkeep of the Machina Republica. It holds the consciousnesses of every Primarch and are not to be disturbed except in times of extreme duress." "Then we're screwed," said the Pakkrat. "We can't just barge in and ask to question a bunch of dead guys' machine-ghosts for Talus-M's confession-thing, can we?" Siobhan smiled slightly. "I think I know a way to do so." The Pakkrat seemed to recoil from her on the comm monitor. "Just who are you?" "Get us to Mars as fast as you can, Terran," half-ordered Siobhan. As sectors flew by with the Pakkrat in the lead, Siobhan pondered if she truly did have the authority to make good on her idea. With the former Primarch, Anjuren Kahn in exile, the Republic without a true leader in the position, no non-Sabine could interface with and access the honored Virtuals. Siobhan hoped her own story would give her what she needed. The Dr. Pakkratius' words were starting to prove why he chose to sit out on this adventure. His clues with the erased memories of Ravindran's were proving that an unauthorized Call Forward was indeed given to the Pakkrat. Siobhan was beginning to believe that this went much deeper and was being covered up by the Sabine Order. Dare she think that Magna Vinda was involved? The confessional Talus-N had leaked was remembered because any Progen could give such to the Machina Republica one-way to the Virtuals. This was often done with reverence and as well before a Warrior went into battle in case their gene-map was never recovered. The confessional existed so that the Progen could unburden themselves to the Republic's highest authorities of the past without repercussion, before going into battle, in this case during the Gate War. While the memory of Calling the Pakkrat was erased, perhaps the Specialist had spoken to the Virtuals about it before he fell. All Siobhan could hope to do now was to attain access to the Machina Republica on Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars where the Virtuals were kept in reverence. Whomever eradicated Talus-N's memories was not aware that he had spoken his confession to the holy Primarchs of the past. But did Siobhan have what it took to access the Machina Republica? Sectors flew by as Siobhan watched the Pakkrat's finest freewarp flying. He drove the formation on all night while she rested. He was driven, this Terran and she was beginning to like him. This man from Terran past, took her on dates, spoke politely to Siobhan and did not seem to mind expenses and risk he was willing to undertake. She contemplated what might be found when the two were before the Virtuals on Mars. Eventually, the Red Planet came into view as the Terran and the Sabura gated into Mars sector. With the twin asteroid cannons, Romulus and Remus, straddling the the planet and all in orbit over the red terrain, the two vessels approached to near-orbit and held geostationary position above. Siobhan breathed a hopeful sigh before she committed to this unauthorized intrusion. Would the Virtuals answer her high above them? The connection to the Machina Republica could only be a one-on-one, tight lasercom beam to Olympus Mons. Siobhan's hand hovered over the transmission button on her console to make contact with the holiest place on Mars. This would be no confession she was about to engage. Even if she failed to access the Virtuals, the Warrior's attempt would be logged on record. This was an all-or-nothing act she was about to undertake for the Pakkrat and the search for the truth about him and the Sabine Order's doings. *Vita Theodora, help me*, she prayed with closed eyes when she pressed the transmission button. The lasercom beam shot from the *Kitten* down to the tallest mountain on Mars. The connection landed at a communications tower and was received. A second passed as identification information was exchanged between Olympus Mons and the Sabura Warrior. There was a second of silence that seemed to stretch to Siobhan's nervous anticipation. The First Sabura, though Called from Centuriata stock, was still a project of the Sabine Order and never severed to its own recognizance. Thus the Sabura were to the rest of the Progen Republic still one with the Sabine Order. With her hidden status as the First Sabura in particular, Siobhan was right under Magna Vinda in authority, though Vinda herself had overlooked this fact by mistake. It allowed the First Sabura access. With relief, Siobhan, the only non-Primarch and non-Sabine Sentinel to make contact with the Virtuals was answered by the many voices of Primarchs past. "WHO CALLS UPON THE HALLS OF THE VIRTUALS?" asked the many voices speaking as one, powerful entity. "Holy Primarchs of the past," answered the Warrior, "it is I, Siobhan the First Sabura who seeks your counsel." There was another eternal second of silence before the Virtuals spoke again, more softly this time, yet still as many-in-one, "Ask, First Sabura whom we do not know yet acknowledge your access." With unbidden tears in her eyes, Siobhan began to tap the Virtuals for the confession of Talus-M Ravindran and what else she could learn of the Call Forward of the Pakkrat. It was a very intimate while that passed between Siobhan and the Primarchs of Progen past. Never before had such a sinful heresy and yet so powerful a connection been accomplished and Siobhan was awestruck by it. Her body trembled nervously as she asked of the dead. It was psycho-spiritual in nature, holy in experience, and a wonder of science that she sought such counsel. Thankfully, the Pakkrat did not intrude upon this communion by asking what transpired. * * * The Terran watched Siobhan's face from start to finish on the communications monitor. The Warrior looked like she had seen a ghost, was speaking to the Almighty, and interfacing with a supercomputer all at once. She was crying, sobbing, and speaking with reverence, though the trader could not hear was was being said. The Pakkrat tried to catch a word or two with the movements of her lips but in the end gave up. This was the girl's moment and as such he chose not to spoil it and anger her. Instead he watched the time and clocked her connection with Olympus Mons. After only a few minutes, the deep red lasercom beam faded and Siobhan ended the transmission with a bowed head and a salute across her chest. Then she made contact with the Terran. "We have to get out of here now," said Siobhan. "Are we in danger?" asked the Pakkrat. "We will be soon if we are still here." "Where to then?" asked the trader. "Anywhere but Progen space," answered the Warrior still reeling from the interface a moment ago. "Good," said the Pakkrat as he spun the formation about to face the way they had come to Mars sector, "I've about had enough of Progen space." He began the rapid, freewarp run to Earth. The Pakkrat decided it was time to look on his own lead that he had left in addition to what Siobhan had gleaned from the dead, whomever they were. He warped past the checkpoints, past the huge red capital ships and stations. In a direct line, the formation made the star gate and passed through its created fields into Asteroid Belt Gamma. From there it would be to Asteroid Belt Beta and then Alpha before the safety of the blue gem of Sol, Earth. There was no doubt in the Pakkrat's mind that he was now in trouble with the Progen Republic. With the girl accessing that which she should not have been able to access, the Pakkrat was now an accessory to espionage of the highest order. They might call him a spy or thief or worse. He was now tied to this woman who alone could explain what he was doing over Mars and tapping the Machina Republica. He listened to her findings. She told of her communion with reverence yet imperative force. "You were Called Forward, Pakkrat. It was no mistake. He knew you were there, Talus-M. It was a mining ship named the *Warthog* that found you. The Sabine Reclaimer (at the time) alone knew you were alive and in cryostasis. The crew knew nothing but a dead Terran derelict ship in an asteroid. Talus-M took enough samples from your arm to map your genes. Then he snuck them back aboard the miner craft and back to Progen space. His confession said that he could not save you because the miners looted your ship for whatever was available. Yet, they took only enough so as to not raise suspicions that they had ever been present. Talus-M was the Progen to repair the distress beacon. He saved your life, Pakkrat. You would still be sleeping in that ice and rock if he had not. Your gene-map then went into storage after it was analyzed for traits the Sabine Order were in need in those times." "This has to be why Dr. Pakkratius and Imperator Pakkrateus have your genes, Pakkrat. You are the original. You are their clone father. They are Progen, yes, but they have your gene-map inside a Progen matrix. I do not know how it works being that I am just a Warrior, but somehow the Sabine included you into the Progen Republic, a secret that would get us killed, reclaimed, destroyed and denied in that order." Siobhan digested the revelation, "Oh, Pakkrat why did this happen? The confession did not say why the Progen decided to clone you, twice, while you still lived. It also does not say why Terran genes were selected. Finally, the confession does not give the reason why you could not be saved then and there." The Pakkrat savored this new information. He had clone Progen sons, from his own genes by a dead Reclaimer who did not remember him. Cover-ups. Heretical and unethical Call Forward. His gene-map, the rescue, the recovery, and the suffering he endured this past two years with no answers from his own InfinitiCorp. Why had the Finn sent him to the comet? Did the Finn know ahead of time that the *Labyrinth Runner* would be incapacitated by it? "I don't know the answers," said Pakkrat who re-focused upon his route to Earth sector, "but I know a dead guy of my own I can ask." Soon enough the Blue Planet came into view. Before it was the super-disc of Earth Station, humanity's oldest, still-operational orbital platform. The octagonal space station welcomed the tiny duo into its hangar shortly after their arrival in the sector. Exiting their craft the two made for the residential section of the station. The news feeds blared over the crowds of Terrans moving about the station: *"We need to clean up Earth Station...."* It was the quoted Lady Isabella DeWynter whom the news was mentioning. The pair moved through the station at the guidance of the Pakkrat who alone knew where he was headed. Siobhan merely followed him even as she looked over her shoulder a few times to check for followers. *"Loric de Grey of Hyperia is close to completion of a new gate in Lagarto, Gallina, but not everyone wants him to succeed....."* A picture of a Terran man bedecked with gizmos and gadgets was interviewed on the news monitors. The Pakkrat took notice of the man, but then continued deeper into the commons. Down several decks of Earth Station the two descended by the emergency stairs. The population of the orbital platform thinned as they went down flight after flight. Siobhan when they were alone in a corridor asked, "This seems a strange final resting place for Terrans." "We aren't going to dig up a body or anything," said the Pakkrat who was now taking steps two at a time. The floor that the Pakkrat chose was only half-illuminated by station lights. It was analogous to an orbital slum where, here and there, a domicile door was stuck half-open or not present. The Terran Trader continued down the slightly curving corridor. Siobhan followed behind him with her hand on the Athanor pistol. Past many squatters in this level they went with a purpose in the trader's step. Once, a Terran vagrant in these lower tunnels asked for a handout from the couple. Siobhan was about to step forward to repulse the beggar, when her partner fished out a palm-sized object and handed it to the beggar. "Here," said the Pakkrat. "Take this, sell it only on the black market and only after hours. It will see to your needs if you are careful enough. In trade, we were never here. Understand?" The beggar nodded as his hand closed over the item. Siobhan barely had time to see what the beggar pocketed as the Pakkrat quickly trudged froward. She saw the vagrant hide a Mahjong tile in his coat pocket. The Warrior had heard that the pirates of the Red Dragon Tongs valued the ancient Earth gambling game from China and coveted the game tiles wherever they turned up. It was a point of pride to the pirates to own a complete set. The Pakkrat had just handed over a valuable collectable to the beggar like it was a donation to the poor. Then, barely breaking stride, the man from Earth continued down the corridor. Stopping before a taped-off apartment door, the Pakkrat spoke to Siobhan, "I have quite a few of them in my hold." Siobhan seemed alarmed that the trader had such items just collecting dust in his ship when he could make a deal with the pirate organization for them. He had altruistically given the beggar about a year's sustenance on a whim. When the Terran tried to force the door, Siobhan showed him how to do it more efficiently. Then she stepped aside with her pistol out. He entered with a nod of quiet thanks. The lights flickered and the air was stale. The air conduit system was deactivated and dust covered everything. The apartment seemed empty of humanity for a long time. It was quite looted of anything valuable and only various debris remained. The two moved, one after the other through the living space. Siobhan clicked on her vambrace light torch to better illuminate the area before them. There was a quick movement as something scrambled from behind a shattered chair to a floor duct. Skittering claws of a rodent or some other vermin earned Siobhan's attention, her pistol tracking the animal's path. She let out a sigh. "I hate rats," she said with a disarming sigh. "That's too bad," whispered the Pakkrat. "They're great survivors." The pair entered what was once a bedroom. It was picked clean with only dust and more debris to greet them. "There's nothing here," whispered Siobhan. The Pakkrat was looking at a wall panel's rusty screws, "Oh, it's here alright. The Finn would've hidden his soul here if he could have. Got a screwdriver?" Siobhan, barely proficient at systems repair-on-the-fly, produced a small tool-set from her armored utility belt. Handing it to the trader, she shone her torch on the panel of his attention. With occasional squeaking screws, the Pakkrat soon had the panel off the decayed wall and was reaching into it with his arm. "C'mon, Finn," said the man, "you showed it to me long ago. Surely you left something here.....aha!" The trader removed his arm from the opened wall. In his hand was a circular, laserdisc from long ago. Today's hard storage came in the form of hexagonal data crystals. Siobhan stared at the round object. He looked at her questioningly, "What? Don't you people carry hardcopy anymore? Let's get out of here." The Pakkrat then re-attached the wall panel. The pair then backed out the way they came, leaving the Finn's apartment gloom to itself. The couple took a different path from Earth Station's slum levels. Emerging into the bazaar from different sides of the market, the Terran made for the exit. He was followed shortly by Siobhan who was given plenty of opening by the Terrans about her. It was just another business day in the station's markets when the two found their respective ships in the docking bay. Away from Earth Station, Siobhan signaled to the Pakkrat, "Do you have the equipment to open that disc?" The Pakkrat smiled, "When's the last time you got out an album of CCR?" "What?" asked the Progen woman. "Sorry, that was before both our times." Siobhan wrinkled her nose and said, "You have such strange sayings." She accentuated the observation with a fist on her hip. Pakkrat explained. "I listen to music on long hauls when alone and it helps with the monotony. I keep a laserdisc player on hand since I haven't the slightest idea how to hook up those crystal-readers used these days." He slipped the data disc into the player and fed it to a monitor on his ship's bridge and cockpit. Then he played the data. The balding and wrinkled old man appeared. He had thick glasses and coughed a few times before he spoke to the viewer. Pakkrat recognized him as the Finn, but Powers he did not age well! He must have been ten or twenty years older. He also looked ill as his features looked poor. Then he spoke as Siobhan listened in on the communications link. "Pakk, *cough*, I don't know where you are or what happened to you, lad but it's been long enough and I've ground the mystery down to that disc I gave you. You must be dead or lost in space somewhere. I don't know if you followed that nav-disc or not but it's been too long you haven't contacted me that I have to assume you dead or adrift to the deep dark." The old man the Pakkrat knew now especially by his raspy voice as the Finn began a wracking cough. Then he continued. "This disc is my final clearing of the books, lad. If you are still out there somewhere, know that I had nothing do with what that nav-disc had on it. I was only told to give it to you." "Pakk, I thought about the who, what and why of that haul you flew out of here. I think you were carrying more than what your cargo registry stated. Yes, the stuff was hot and we all dared not crack it open. It was weapons-grade Uranium, fer Powers sake. Pakk, *cough, cough*, I don't have much time, so let this apology clear my conscience and send you to wherever you went with my last and best wishes. It was nothing personal, business and all. Powers, I hope you come back, lad. Warp speed, lad." Then the recording faded and ended with the Finn's signature rune. The Pakkrat remembered it on every document the fixer signed. Ejecting the nav-disc, the Terran Tradesman stored it inside a music disc case and hid it among his music disc collection under his pilot chair. "Fare well, old timer. Finn." Siobhan asked him, "He sounded like a comrade, Terran. Was he your friend?" The Pakkrat considered his memories of the Finn. "We were more business partners in near-crime," he said, "but we always seemed to stay on the lawful side of that line." The trader swung the formation to port and then warped from Earth Station. "Where are we headed next?" asked Siobhan. "We need to find my old ship." answered the Pakkrat. "We need to have a look at her." "Where is your old ship?" "The rescue drones that hauled me in may still have their memories stored, so it's off to the Infinity Campus where I was pulled from the old *Labyrinth Runner*. Ahead lay the facility Infinity Campus. It was a multi-purpose facility and headquarters for the company here in Earth sector. Swarms of tasked drones moved about the orbital station. It had no proper docking hangar, but InfinitiCorp employees oversaw the operations the drones undertook. Using his corporate authorizations, the Pakkrat gained access to the drone teams that salvaged his ship. Reading their logs, he swore aloud. "Their logs of the salvage have been erased." Siobhan asked, "Was it a maintenance data dump? I mean, were they out of memory space or something?" Pakkrat looked into that and came up with, "No, that specific mission was erased. The drones know nothing about it anymore. And it was an unmanned mission, so nobody here was on site when I was hauled from that asteroid." Siobhan played with her double-helix in her gauntleted fingers. It was something he saw her do when she was thinking. Then she brightened with an idea. "Pakkrat," she offered, "maybe the drones can remember where your ship hulk was stored, like in a hulk field or the like." The trader nodded to her then stroked his beard as he went through date-stamped logs of junked ship hulls. Though there were no names attached to the hulks, the Terran found that all the hulks of that month on the year he was rescued went to the same location. "Smart girl," he said, looking at her on the monitor. "Then we just have to find the ship and the drones are not a hurdle," she said. "Says all the hulks of that month went to Asteroid ED5013," the Pakkrat read aloud the name. "That's right here on the fringes of Earth Sector. My ship has been here the entire time, right under my nose!" Siobhan noted, "I don't know where that location is, Pakkrat." "I do. Let's go." Minutes later after warping to the sector's outer reaches, the pair came upon a yellow-orange crystalline asteroid. Across its darker landscape were littered tens of hulks. Thus began focused scans for the right hull shape, size, configuration and class that matched the *Labyrinth Runner*, the old hauler. *While the pair searched, their sensors failed to register the slow, inexorable fly-by of a capital ship in black, sleek shape. Bulbous turrets were stowed as tiny bumps on the vessel's outer hull. The **Andromeda** slipped by them, quietly watching them.* When the old and derelict hauler was re-discovered, the Terran man and the Progen woman exited their ships in EVA spacesuits to the surface of the asteroid. As they approached, Siobhan pointed her torch at the ship's port-side cargo section. "I'll be a honey-dipped rat on an ant hill," swore the Pakkrat. "They did enter my ship. Look at the hole they cut into the cargo bay. The drones would not have been able to enter through such a small hole. See?" "Yes," said Siobhan. She looked at her armor's sensors. "Though the cargo uranium is now mostly depleted uranium slag, we should be safe enough to dig around for this secret shipment, *Pakk*." She said his nickname like the Finn's recording. "Let's hope it's here," he answered smiling with half-hope. The two entered the cargo bay through the hole. After about ten minutes of searching through sections of depleted uranium, nothing was found. "Do you think it was found, whatever the Finn was suggesting?" asked the Warrior. "If it was found, why rescue me at all and have to deal with my back-pay?" answered the Pakkrat with a question. "Whatever it was, they didn't find it and the drones' memories were erased to conceal such a detail or clues. "You say you were stranded in an asteroid from a comet's hail storm that incapacitated your ship," reminded Siobhan. "What if the drones could not have salvaged everything and only took the majority of what they could carry?" The trader snapped his fingers when they were safely back in their vessels. "That's it!" he exclaimed. "The drone's instructions were too simple and they rescued my ship as a first measure. I'm still alive because they didn't find whatever was hidden in that radioactive cargo. The navigation computer was destroyed by the through penetrations so it was useless to them, whoever they were." "Then," said Siobhan, "there is no way to backtrack to the asteroid where you sought shelter, is there?" Pakkrat nodded his head, but then raised his index to his temple saying, "there is one last rutter to that site left. In here." "What is a 'rutter'?" Siobhan asked. "Seriously? You folk in this Crystal Age don't keep maps on hardcopy?" The Pakkrat went on to explain that a 'rutter' was a record of charts, maps, travel routes and pathways that ancient Earth sailing ships kept as secret documents to keep ahead of the competition. "So, earthling," asked the Progen, "where is your rutter, hmmm?" "I remember where I was when I entered the cryostasis capsule." "Then lead the way," suggested the Progen. The couple warped from Earth sector with Siobhan leading while the Pakkrat correlated sector maps with his memory of the discarded route the Finn's nav-disc had suggested he take over 161 years ago. *"Mistress, they just left," reported Joga, the ever-present Progen secretary.* *"I know where they are going as I was privy to the drones' records before they were erased," declared the Lady DeWynter. "We only need follow them to Ceres/Thule. But I have doubts they will be able to open that long-quiet gate."* Ceres/Thule, to the Crystal Age was the sector that now contained the discarded route featured in the nav-disc given to the Pakkrat. Sectors from Earth, they halted before the cold, inanimate rings that barred the way to the sector beyond. Since it was a dead-end sector with no adjoining star gate other than to Venus sector, it too was long ago discarded as a waste of InfinitiGate resources. Like Pakkrat's comet-laden route a century and a half before, Ceres/Thule was largely uninhabited save by space fauna and old nav-bouys that were, in theory, still present. Pakkrat barely remembered the route through 161 years of cryostasis, two years of career and now a small stint of Iteration Haze, (as Siobhan called it). Back in his day, the Ancient stargates had yet to be discovered. Everyone plied Sol system in long stints of warp speeds, which itself was relatively new as well. Nobody had wormhole gates to sling them across the universe. The trader smiled. He was beginning to feel very old as the pair approached the unused InfinitiGate that they hoped opened to Ceres/Thule. "This was not here back in my day," noted the trader from Earth. "To my knowledge it has not been opened in a long time," said Siobhan. "I've been through Venus sector, docked at Venera Highport and stared at its inactive rings a few times. It is like some mystery is beyond them that others may ignore." "I know what is behind that gate," said the Pakkrat. "It's getting there through them." "What do you know about Ceres/Thule then?" asked Siobhan. "Well Ceres is a huge asteroid," described the Pakkrat. "It was discovered long before true space travel in Sol. I remember it in the distance when I went comet-surfing." "What is comet-surfing?" asked the Warrior woman. "Never mind," said the smiling trader. Continuing, he said, "But Thule, I only know from topic searches in archives. It is supposedly some sort of legendary, unattainable land of long days and long nights above the Scythian parallel on Earth. A bunch of old, dead explorers tried to find it north of the British Isles. Eventually it was decided that it was an island off the coast of Norway in Europe. But now, here in this Crystal Age, Thule must be some unattainable body in space, right?" The formation of the Warrior and Tradesman craft was before the inert gate. Siobhan tried a few transmissions to the rings in hopes that one of them might open it. None worked. "How do we get it opened," she asked. "There has to be a condition or combination, I am guessing," answered the Terran. *Joga, watching from the bridge of the invisible **Andromeda** some distance away from the pair at the Ceres/Thule stargate, turned to the lounging Lady DeWynter, "Mistress, I feel something."* *"You've had feelings before, Joga," answered the Lady. "Is it the presence again?"* *"Yes, mistress," concluded the psi-gifted Progen woman, "and I am powerless against it."* * * * "I dunno, Siobhan," called the Pakkrat. "Maybe it is some gate that only Jenquai or the gifted can open and I am neither. I doubt I could think or will it to open any more than I could balance my credit account." Siobhan smiled at the observation mixed with another of the Pakkrat's strange figures of speech. To add to the humor, Siobhan suggested, "Have you tried, Terran?" It was funny to watch the Terran take on a mimic grimace of fierce concentration. It made Siobhan smile and hold back an amused chuckle. When he tried a new grimace, his face a cross between intense pain and bared teeth scowl, the Sabura could not hold back her giggling at his demeanor. Then, except for the two vessels' running lights, everything went dark and shadowy. Both pilots checked their scanners for the cause of the sudden night. Venus was eclipsing the sun, its shadow creeping over their location. But even at that speed both were enveloped immediately. There, in the shadow of Venus a motion came from the Ceres/Thule star gate. It was moving! Spinning and twirling its hexagonal rings, the star gate expanded and spread outward. There was an aged scraping and high-pitched whine as the old rings squealed into position which reverberated through the two nearby ships. The Pakkrat covered his ears in reflex as Siobhan merely grit her teeth against the noise. Then the darkness was lit with blue brilliance as the decrepit portal lit its artificial wormhole with flickering plasma at its edges. "An unattainable land of long days and long nights...," said the Pakkrat when it was safe to uncover his ears and at the sight of the opened gate. "It must be keyed to only open in shadow and only when requested," said Siobhan. "Someone or something is making this adventure hard to reach the end of the maze," mused the Pakkrat aloud. "This cannot be coincidence," said Siobhan who was on alert. "Do you read anything on your scanners?" "Nothing." After a few moments, the Terran nodded to the Progen who led them through the Ceres/Thule star gate.
  10. The Thule Project - Ch. III by Pakkrat III. Because the many Reporters, Anchors and their crews were busy with incoming masercom beam feeds from all over known space or fiddling with their electronics, Siobhan had little trouble making her way past the main lobby and camera sets. The only other Progen that she could see was occupied conversing with station hangar personnel. Thus the Sabura made her way past all into the lounge. The man she was searching for was found at the bar, his back to her entry. The clone brothers had the same hair and style, so it was easy to pick out the Dr. Pakkratius, a Magister Magna of the Sabine Order. The different Net-7 News logos on his armor made little difference. Alpha-caste Progen were not hard to spot in this mostly-Terran station here in Saturn sector. The Doctor was sipping vodka gingerly as she approached. Siobhan looked about. All the patrons were busy watching the feeds on the monitors, making communications connections on the net terminal or taking jobs on the opposing jobs terminal. Quietly slipping out the Athanor heavy pistol, she approached the imbibing Magister Magna. Siobhan had seen the gleaming white Tradesman-class vessel she had been trailing now sitting in the hangar of NET-7 SOL. Likewise, the Sabura Warrior confirmed the presence of the sailed and N7-labelled Sentinel-class craft. Her target was here and most likely resting off any potential Iteration Haze. This allowed her time to confront the Doctor who had by now used the stolen and now-defunct Biostruct. Closer she came to the Doctor of the Call Forward. She meant to shove the heavy barrel into his kidney and order the Pakkratius to cough up the patient. But before she could level the pistol in her approach the Sentinel spoke without turning around. "Put my brother's gun away, Warrior," said the Pakkratius. "I knew someone would come and have monitored and recorded your arrival since docking." Siobhan, though fast, had not thought that this clone brother of her friend would be so crafty. That he knew she had kept Imperator Pakkrateus' Athanor heavy pistol said that he was familiar with her at least superficially. She holstered the weapon and joined the Sabine at the bar. He pushed a spare vodka to her. She did not lift it. "What gave me away?" she asked as if the two were familiar. "Your coming was betrayed a little under 150 years ago, Warrior." "I don't understand." "You will, but you're going to pay for such understanding by helping the Terran." Siobhan was taken aback, but in this public venue she could not protest. Instead she drew closer to the Doctor who still sipped his vodka. "If you know why I am here and under whose authority, what makes you think you can order a Warrior around, Sentinel?" He turned and smiled. The Dr. Pakkratius had the same red irises as the Pakkrateus. "What I now know will get Vinda in a hot, water planet ocean of trouble. The things I have learned will get me, you and that Terran reclaimed in short order to keep this under wraps." Siobhan countered with, "Then you should comply with me and hand over the Terran thief. I don't know why Vinda wants him other than some stolen Biostruct, but what she says goes and you are her subordinate, Doctor." Pakkratius downed the last of his drink and turned on her. "Not anymore or do you not watch the news? Vinda struck me from service two weeks ago and has let me live for reasons I am beginning to suspect. Else I'd be reclaimed by now. I work for Net-7 News now as an Anchor for the NET-7 SOL Faction. Vinda has no authority over me any longer. In fact, you Siobhan, you are in my territory." "What?" asked Sibohan. It was rare to have a Sentinel give a Warrior such aggression. She was surprised at the Pakkratius' confidence before her. "I am one of two Lead Anchors here at Net-7 News. I can turn the cameras on you, blow your cover, expose your mission, and who you are working for in under a minute to the entirety of the galaxy over the news. I can order the hangar to put a hold on your vessel, Siobhan. So. You're going to work for me for a little while while remaining on-mission for Vinda, acknowledge?" It was so sublime as Siobhan considered how she had allowed herself to become compromised. He had her and through her, he had Vinda and the entire Sabine Order. "You'd betray your Order over this?" "I can remain a Net-7 Reporter and Anchor for a long time and live many lifetimes worth of adventures. Vinda can try her hand with my clone brother if she dares." "Your brother is a Coll-" the Sabura was interrupted by the Anchor-rat. "My clone brother is obviously a planted mole-agent for Vinda, deposited into the Collegia to keep tabs on her rival Theodoric Cassel. Now I shouldn't have told you that and the knowledge could get everyone reclaimed and stored for a very long time, so listen up. You are going to stay on-mission for Vinda, but you will not harm that Terran and you will lend him aid whenever he needs. Now acknowledge or shall we saunter into the studio right now? The studio is on the way to the hangar so you would be forced right where the newscams can catch you. What's it going to be?" She was trapped. Siobhan thought that she might have to kill the Pakkratius to save herself, but the stare of a particular young, Jenquai girl with a fanged grin at her let the Sabura know that Pakkratius was not alone here in the lounge. The Doctor may have had his back to the door, but he was not unprotected. The teenager had her hands on both of the twin combat knives at her side. She was obviously Shinwa or something like them. A warrior. Pakkratius Siobhan could take, but what of the girl and the Doctor working together? "Acknowledged," Siobhan said with careful pronunciation. "Where is he?" "Let me take you up to him. He should be in my mini-lab, resting." The Doctor led the Warrior up to the next floor to his domicile-office. Siobhan saw that the Jenquai girl with silvery-white hair followed gingerly behind. The Progen entered the mini-lab and found the Terran missing. "I thought you said he was here resting," noted Sibohan. "I know where he's going next," answered the Pakkratius. "Follow him to Arx Magister, Mars sector and try not to frighten him. This is his path." Siobhan nodded, but then asked, "You aren't coming along?" "No," explained the Sentinel. "That Terran might get me reclaimed, especially after the events of late. Best that I was never involved publicly. You go. He might need help if he suffers the Haze, something with which you are familiar." So, Imperator Pakkrateus must have shared something of Siobhan's story with his clone brother, the Magister Magna Pakkratius. He did have her cornered in so many ways, she concluded. The Anchor-rat leaned over and lifted a scribbled note on a lounge napkin from the lab's counter. It read: Thanks, Doctor. I'll owe you an interview or something later. -P "You'd better hurry," suggested the Pakkratius. "I hear Terrans are known for their velocity and Arx Magister is the last place for a Terran inquiring about Republic business." So, Siobhan left the office on her way to the hangar to chase once more after the Terran man. * * * He had been in this sector of Progen space before on various business tasks, but the Pakkrat was never lost on the aggressive attitude of Progen space station architecture. Arx Magister, two or more sectors from the orthorombic shape of NET-7 SOL, was a huge, draconic orbital war platform to the Terran's eyes. With the gargantuan twin Romulus and Remus cannons nearby, the might of the Progen Republic was on display. It was with great politesse that the Pakkrat signalled his desire to dock at the massive fortress in orbit over the Red Planet. Once the trader had docked and made his way into the great lobby of the facility, he immediately realized he had no clue as to how to ask for access to the Call Forward archives of the Sabine Order. It was some time later after wandering the lobby, the bazaar and then finally in the social pavilion and bar that the Pakkrat was about to give up and leave. Turning to the exit, he was immediately blocked by a Progen female in a strange set of armor. She was no tall amazon like most Progen. The female before the trader had dirty blonde-to-light brown hair in two different cuts. The majority of her locks ended just below the ears in a sharp line around her head, while a ponytail tassel streamed up and back behind her head to descend in a double helix hold. It screamed Progen pride to the InfinitiCorp employee. The woman wore a set of light, plated armor over a black jumper that was dotted with tiny, red, metal hexagons sewn into the fabric. The jumper hugged every womanly curve that was not concealed by the protective armor. A heavy pistol rode a holster at her waist belt and hung down, strapped to her thigh. The Pakkrat could have mistaken her for some sort of scout if it were not for all the battle technology dispersed throughout the entire uniform and armor. The female was muscled but wiry and the suit hid the lithe form at first notice. It took a second and closer inspection to see that this woman was not like the other Progen sporting cybernetics enhancements. Aside from a communications choker, the trader could appreciate her light brown skin and her dragon green eyes. Naturally, the woman sized up the much taller Pakkrat with faster assessment and tactical dismissal. But then she spoke directly to the trader. "Do you like our station, Terran?" the woman asked. "Or are you lost?" The Pakkrat, not being armed with more than his PDA device gave a polite bow to the Progen woman. "It's quite efficient, yet I can't seem to get the time of day from anyone here." "Time of day? A Terran figure of speech," noted the woman. "The time is right there on any wall monitor." "Well, I can't seem to obtain some very private information that I need," explained the Pakkrat. "I'm InfinitiCorp Merchant Prince Pakkrat by the way." The Progen nodded formally and responded, "I am designated Praefect Siobhan. Can I be of assistance instead?" She added the first smile that the Pakkrat had received from a Progen in a long time. "I may be able to direct you properly." "To tell the truth, Praefect Siobhan, I am looking into who was the first Sabine to perform your Call Whatever-thingy on me. See, it must have happened quite a long time ago and I was unaware that it was happening." Siobhan seemed to consider the Terran's words. With half-doubt on her expression, she said, "Non-Progen were only recently allowed the interpolation services of the Sabine Order Call Forward. Just how long ago were you Called?" "Well you may not believe this but I estimate that it happened between five and 150 years ago," declared the Pakkrat. "You're that old?" asked Siobhan with impressed stress to her question. "That is some impressive longevity in your genome, Terran." The trader then told the story of his need to enter cryostasis in an emergency situation long ago and was only recently revived almost two years ago. He set his crystal employee badge on the table where the two had sit for beverages. Cautiously, the Pakkrat showed Siobhan his arm and told of how it ached on occasion. To avoid confusion with the mark left by the interpolation earlier that morning, the Pakkrat explained his recent service from Dr. Pakkratius at NET-7 SOL. The Praefect seemed to take in the story. She seemed to accept the tale when she saw the two listed ages on the employee badge. "So, you would be about forty years of age had you not endured extended cryostasis before your rescue," concluded Siobhan. "And I was having some birthday, um- modifications- with the Call done when the Doctor noticed that I had been Called some time ago. I had never remembered having - or answering- this Call Forward done." The Pakkrat felt he was getting somewhere with Siobhan as she was giving him far more attention to his details than most Progen. "That you had been Called against your will is quite against Sabine ethics," Siobhan said, but then shed light further with, "but at the time it was supposedly done, no non-Progen were blessed with the Call. This is highly irregular and I am no Sabine Sentinel to know this." With Siobhan agreeing to help the trader, the two finished a short meal and she took him to a net terminal in the pavilion. Cycling through menus of data took time, but soon the Praefect had drawn up the Progen Republic Call Forward Archives. It listed every Sabine Order use of the Call Forward that had ever been recorded. But then the menu halted the search. "It says that this is classified information," said Siobhan. "Sabine Order only." "Is there any Sabine here in the station," asked the Pakkrat as he looked about. Siobhan too looked about the pavilion. When she was seemingly confident that there were none about, she slid her green IdentData Cube into the terminal interface. Then she tried to enter the Archive. Much to the surprise of the Pakkrat who had the self-control to keep quiet, he watched as Siobhan scrolled through the history of the Call Forward. The woman had some form of hidden access that she had not let out. Who was she? Through bloodlines, gene-maps, re-iterations, and wars upon wars of Progen history Siobhan continued to scroll backward in time from the present. She seemed proficient in speed reading or perhaps she was cybernetically enhanced to the trader's perception. She stopped at a date that was roughly 161 years into the past. "This is the year you entered cryostasis, correct?" she asked. "Yes, but I don't think that I was Called that quickly after entering the capsule," answered the Pakkrat. Siobhan then scrolled forward in time, past various conflicts, slowing until she came upon a Call date with no name. "The timestamp for this Call is here but there is no listed name or it has been deleted." Pakkrat looked over Siobhan's shoulder into the holographic image list. "Does it say who performed the Call perhaps?" Siobhan nodded and pointed a gauntleted index finger into the display. "It lists a Sabine Order Reclaimer designated Talus-M Ravindran. Hmm. Says he was well rewarded with the gene-map's reclamation too. But other than that, nothing." "So, this Talus-guy, he could have been the Reclaimer to Call me in my sleep?" asked the trader. "If so, then he should not have, due to ethics and policies of the day," reminded Siobhan. She lowered her voice at the nearby entry of some Centuriata. "We need to have a look at the personnel records of this Talus-M Ravindran." Backing out of the high-security of the Sabine Order Archive, Siobhan then ran a search for the Reclaimer, Talus-M. She let out a sigh of defeat. "See here his name in red?" asked Siobhan pointing again. "It says he fell in battle during the Gate War." Pakkrat rubbed his beard in thought. "Don't you Progen gather the dead? Did this Talus-M, you know, Answer the Call Forward?" "Good idea. Maybe he did." "What is it like?" "What is what like?" The Pakkrat blushed as he continued, "What is is like to die and then Answer the Call Forward to a new life." Siobhan, to the trader, seemed to look distant for a moment. She stood up and faced the tall Terran. "As a Progen, you would have seen your death and met it headlong with confidence, recalling it with pride to fall in battle or other service." She paused again. "My last iteration, I did not get that opportunity, but that is another story. But when you, as a Progen, Answer the Call, you wake up as if from a long sleep. You're tired, hungry and your muscles are on fire from the electrical jolt to start your new heart and body. You might itch a lot. To keep you from accidentally biting your tongue off, you have a bite guard in your mouth at first. When you gather your wits and realize you have Answered the Call, the medics and Doctor let you up and help you dress in your new life. You have all your memories, but you have to go through new training to get used to your new form." Siobhan again looked sad and her gaze was glossy. "Did I ask the wrong question to ask?" inquired the Pakkrat softly. "Again it was another life and another story, but at one point I was an Alpha-caste Warrior, but now I have Answered the Call to a Beta-caste iteration." Pakkrat was confused. This caste stuff, sounded classist the way she said them. "I'm sorry," he apologized not knowing why. It just seemed appropriate to Befriend the woman with such. Siobhan recovered with a half-smile and a cute tilt of her head. "In the end, it is nothing. Though I cannot be given new life as an Alpha-caste Warrior, I now have something far more valuable in trade. But enough about me. Let's find if this Talus-M Answered the Call." The Progen woman returned to cycling through menus and then ran a name search in Progen Republic / Sabine Order / Talus-M. A hum alert sound confirmed a match. Siobhan pointed at the match. "He did Answer the Call and came back to serve the Republic as a Sabine Order Specialist. It was some time later but his genome had been flagged as Extolled. It means that he was guaranteed as valuable to the Progen, to be Called as needed instead of stored indefinitely." "It says his name is Talus-N Ravindran," noted the Pakkrat. "Is that how it works?" "It is a nomenclature option some Progen choose," explained the Praefect, "especially if they want some form of separation from their old life. It happens when a previous iteration may have been painful or traumatic." "Maybe I can ask him why he found me, did that Call-thing to me and did not rescue me," suggested the Pakrkat. He privately wanted to know why he had been discovered and not rescued. Had he been found in that asteroid and looted for his genes? This was turning out a bit much for the trader with more questions following each discovery. "Perhaps," answered Siobhan. "Is this Talus-N in service now?" he asked. Siobhan punched the file for Talus-N Ravindran. "Says he, like many Specialists, was sent by the Sabine Order to Varen's Girdle, Aragoth to search the sector, perhaps for another piece, another Shard of the Codex. He may still be out there. We will have to search though. That he has not yet returned from the assignment may mean that he's living either at Aragoth Station or at InfinitiCorp's Chernovog Station and still searching." Pakkrat became enthusiastic. He wanted answers from a man who was most likely standing over the sleeping trader stranded in an asteroid so long ago. Why was he not rescued? Why was his genes mapped? What purpose would such have served? Couldn't the Reclaimer, Talus-M, have at least called InfinitiCorp and post his coordinates of the hauler? The Terran trader pocketed this new information as he again reminded himself to look in on the Finn who has given the Pakkrat a certain nav-disc to a discarded route. More questions lie that way and he did not dwell long before he stood up from the terminal at Arx Magister. "Siobhan," the man from North America said in a lowered, warning voice, "I think I was not meant to know this - that this was hidden for a reason beyond just some ethics and policies. My name as a patient was missing or deleted, I saw." "I think you are correct, Terran," she agreed and then added, "I also think I need to know some answers as to the misuse of the Call Forward. Such seems to be happening more often of late." That last part brought another distant gaze to the dragon green eyes of the Progen woman. "We could haul some gear or other stuff out to Aragoth Station as a cover story," suggested the trader. "Y'know... to have a reason to be out that far to begin with and make a little funds growth." He smiled in inviting the Progen woman. "You didn't have to ask. You had me at Call Forward." The Pakkrat then offered his arm, a gesture the Warrior woman did not seem to understand. Reaching over, the trader put her arm through his offered and led her from the pavilion back towards the bazaar. "It's a date then." "What is a date?" she asked curiously. Soon, with two cargo holds full of construction equipment, the Tradesman and the Warrior were underway to the Aragoth solar system. * * * After many sectors of travel later, Siobhan found herself enjoying the wing position next to the Terran Tradesman vessel. The Pakkrat's engines and devices were chosen for maximum commuting speeds. Siobhan had likewise done the best with her repertoire of systems and found that even then the average of their two ships in formation was much faster at warp than her usual speed. It felt lightning fast to instantly line up on a distant gate across the sector and freewarp, that is to fly directly to the target rather than travel nav-bouys. Watching celestial bodies such as gas supergiants, ringed planets and asteroid fields slip by as they travelled, gave her a slight rush. She occasionally looked over at the Pakkrat on the formation monitor. He was fully concentrated on flying freewarp to the next stargate. She noted how he seemed to care little about his reactor drain at the speeds he was attaining. Terran systems and ships seemed ahead of the curve in the realm of travel. The trader himself was constantly looking to the horizon to the next warp target. Then Siobhan noted the name of the Pakkrat's white-colored ship. It was named in red letters, *Labyrinth Runner* and had a circular labyrinth for wing decals. The name looked familiar to her but it was the suggestion of the graphic that said this Terran was likened to a rat in a maze, running around for bits of cheese. *Labyrinth Runner* seemed similar to the Imperator Pakkrateus' Privateer-class ship named *Maze Runner*. Was there a connection, she asked herself. Sure there must be some coincidence that their root names were the same. Siobhan noted the detail and saved it for later to confirm. Was there more to this? The two pilots stopped overnight in the Valkyrie Twins sector station, Aragoth Station. The spectacular reflections off the facility's radiation plate shielding spewed a spectrum of wavelengths, visible and invisible around the otherwise delicate superstructure. Siobhan and the trader off-loaded the trade goods to a modest profit to the thankful technicians via the station's customs kiosk. Then the Pakkrat, using the funds he had garnered, treated a surprised Siobhan to a meal of steak, hydroponics greens and potatoes at a restaurant in the bazaar over looking the station's arboretum below. As they ate and sipped Yum-O-Beer, courtesy of a travelling Tada-O merchant out of Muspelheim, Pakkrat spoke to her alone. "This, Siobhan, is a date," he said leaning forward over the table to her. The Sabura Warrior was indeed surprised. This date seemed like some form of social one-on-one over the enjoyment of a meal that was catered to be pleasurable to eat. The social aspect was that the exchange was private and singular. "Is this how all dates work?" she asked. "Back where and when I come from, it can vary depending on what each finds fun, right?" answered the Pakkrat. "It just depends." Siobhan was interested to learn more. "I want to go on more of these dates." "We'll see," said the Terran before feeding himself another bite of steak. Though she had this 'fun' with other kinds of activities, such as space combat and stopping the villainy of madmen, Siobhan found she very much liked this kind of peaceful 'fun'. After the meal, the Pakkrat saw to it that he escorted her to her rented room in Aragoth Station for the night. She asked why he felt it necessary to see her to her room. He told her it was the polite thing that Terrans do for their date partners. This strange custom, done for a Progen Warrior, in a secure research space station, seemed out of place. Yet, it made her feel warm inside in a way she could not identify. "How do Terran date partners thank the other person for a good date?" asked Siobhan. The Pakkrat seemed to think while he stroked his sharp-clipped beard. Then he shrugged and offered, "How about a kiss goodnight since you Progen don't seem to have deeper relations?" "Oooh, now that I have done before!" she said enthusiastically and bear-hugged the Trader and kissed him. It seemed to catch the Terran by surprise but he yielded to her strong arms around him. She kissed him with every ounce of her passion she could muster, having done so with the Privateer the first time she had been kissed. Once separated, she sauntered into her room, leaving the Pakkrat outside in the hallway. She had done that, leaving the Pakkrateus likewise on the tarmac that day in the heat the last time she saw the Collegiate. She guessed that was how a kiss was performed, right? The door automatically closed on the stunned Trader. * * * The next morning, Siobhan was up early, doing stretches, exercises and weight lifting and combat manipulations of weights. She found the Pakkrat in the lounge having coffee. He looked like he had partaken too many Yum-O-Rum drinks to Siobhan's eyes. Then his appearance and demeanor looked familiar. She let him off easy with, "It is called Iteration Haze. It is a side effect from not resting properly from a recent Call Forward. For us Warriors it also happens when the process is rushed or performed haphazardly after Answering the Call Forward." "Oh, I thought the dreams were bad, is all," said the trader who again nursed his coffee. After a breakfast in the lounge, the two were launching from the hangar in their ships, the *Labyrinth Runner* and the *Kitten*. Since the name Talus-N Ravindran was not in the station registry, the two made for Chernovog Station on the way to Varen's Girdle. Once into the next sector, Aragoth Prime, the pair of travellers pulled up to the orbital and corporate space station and queried the control tower staff. Was the Sabine Order Specialist Talus-N Ravindran registered at the station? The tower controllers checked the docking registry there and responded that, yes, the Sentinel was listed as a tenant, but for some time now the Sabine was working long hours in Varen's Girdle and only arrived to sleep. He then would gather sustenance for another trip to the Girdle and depart once more. Thanking the station's tower and administration, the Pakkrat turned the formation towards the distant sector gate to the frontier. Again, to save time, the trader freewarped to the gate to avoid any traffic. The enormity of the Aragoth system's asteroid belt, named Varen's Girdle, was almost overwhelming. The belt of asteroids was almost limitless. Only a fraction of its entirety had been fully explored by explorers of the Jenquai, Progen and Terran races. To this day, the fields were still being analyzed for potential discoveries and archaeological finds. There was no outpost, facilities nor space station in Varen's Girdle. Each of the three races of humanity had mutually let the massive belt remain unclaimed and yet shared by all after they had, under treaty, agreed that Aragoth system was no one race's territory. It was a frontier and all treated it as such. It was here that the so-called Appian Codex had been discovered by Vinda's Sabine Order. It was also in Varen's Girdle that Andaren was laid to rest by his brother Aragoth. And still the wonders of the belt continued to yield more. The varied space fauna of the huge asteroid belt made for some interesting and often dangerous encounters. The bulbous Mabonae and Sagut creatures filled their bodies with the gasses they needed to grow. Crystalline biologicals also floated amongst the inanimate rocks of their home. A space sector of wonder and danger made up Varen's Girdle. Siobhan's *Kitten* led the way through the sector as she called out locally for the Sabine Order. As the only Warrior that was privy to why the Sabine Order was combing the Girdle, Siobhan led the Pakkrat into the deeper, more dangerous fields where the Sentinel Specialists had been sent to search for Ancient artifacts and clues to re-open the collapsed Appian Gate in Lagarto, Gallina. In addition to their search, the Sentinels were mining for rare minerals that Vinda felt may come in handy. So, the Sabura woman had been the one to transmit her search for Talus-N Ravindran. The process took hours as the pair searched field after field. The Progen and the Terran had to dodge their share of the local space creatures that inhabited Varen's Girdle. This was no safari and the Pakkrat was anxious to move on. As the search went on, Siobhan took the time to change her weaponry to the deadly DigiApogee Prototype projectile weapons she had collected since her new life as a Sabura. This was dangerous times for her as the First Sabura and here on the frontier sector. The weapons were massive compared to the messenger's beams she previously mounted on her ship's wings. Into her cargo hold went the puny beam weapons. The huge, belt-fed chain guns looked far more intimidating now. The pair was almost across half the sector when their call was acknowledged by a Sabine Sentinel trailing of the Jenquai-sanctified Andaren's Tomb. The male voice answered the hail from Siobhan. "I am Specialist Ravindran," greeted the Sabine Sentinel vessel. "I am Praefect Siobhan of the Centuriata, Specialist," said Siobhan, half-lying, "and we need to speak with you." The Sabine craft halted his mining beam and turned to meet the Warrior and the Terran ship next to her. "Specialist," asked Siobhan, "have you ever met this Terran beside me?" There was a pause as the Progen man on the comm monitor seemed to regard the Pakkrat in formation beside Siobhan. Then he answered her, "No, Praefect, I do not remember ever meeting this Terran man." "But you surely must have-," the Pakkrat tried to ask, but he was interrupted by Siobhan. "Sir," she said to Specialist, "there are records that this Terran's gene-map was sampled via the Call Forward long before the discipline was opened to non-Progen. Do you recall such?" The man looked back to Siobhan and answered, "No, Warrior. I do not recall such. I have no memory of ever engaging the Call Forward to any non-Progen. Now if you will excuse me-." The Pakkrat chimed in again with, "But is there any way you could have kept your own records?" Siobhan almost tried to stop the Trader, but the question was less intrusive. "Sir," the Sabura implored, "this is important." "I do not remember ever meeting this Terran, encountering this Terran, much less performing the Call Forward for any Terran." Siobhan though she was about to hit an information dead-end when the Specialist added. "But I do recall making a confessional to the Virtuals on Olympus Mons before I fell during the Gate War." "What are the Virtuals?" asked the Pakkrat more to Siobhan. "What is going on? Why doesn't he rememb-?" "Thank you for your time, Specialist. We will leave you now." Siobhan backed the formation out and the Warrior began to make for the nearest sector star gate. The Sentinel ship went back to his project of searching the field of debris and asteroids.
  11. The Thule Project - Ch. II by Pakkrat II. Calliope Gans looked the Pakkrat up and down from behind her sunglasses. "Interpolation services of the Call Forward, Terran?" "Yeah, I guess," answered the Pakkrat. He had heard of others Answering the Call Forward, but this was his first time to Arx Spartoi for such services. Gans stood a little straighter. In her arms was the very low-rating Biostruct device that Pakkrat wanted to purchase. She held it like a barrier of some sort between herself and the trader. "I am sorry, sir," said Gans, "but I am not authorized at this time to sell Biostructs." She stepped back a half-step into the deeper shadows. "What do you mean, ma'am?" asked the Pakkrat. "I meant exactly what I said, Terran." The man from Terra looked about. This woman was the only outlet for the devices that he could see. He tried a brighter smile this time. "Is this, um...negotiable, ma'am?" he pleaded with a question. "How to you mean?" asked Gans who also looked about, possibly for someone in particular. "Well, I-...is there anything I can do to earn one of them? Even that one you are holding?" Calliope looked about again through the massive room and saw that not many people were present. Then she leaned in and spoke quickly and quietly. "Terran, a few months back on Endriago Planet, I, a Specialist, saw a Progen man - how do you say it? *kiss?* - a Progen woman on the landing platform tarmac of Porvenir Mons. It- it is not something we Progen do. It is vulgar and looked down upon. But I was wondering....since you are the Pakkrat, could you?" "Kiss you?" asked the Pakkrat quietly. "Like they did, yes," answered Gans sheepishly and quietly. Pakkrat joined the Progen woman in the darkness of the corner. Whispering to her he said, "Well, I was not there on the event you describe, but I think I can do better." "I think I'd-" she was cut off by the Pakkrat who reached down and with his hands, gathered her tanned face. With his best Befriending skills at laying one on a girl, the first he'd done in over 161 years, the Pakkrat kissed Calliope Gans with a long, enduring and passionate kiss. It was gentle, gentlemanly, yet powerful enough to overwhelm the female. He felt her almost go slack, so he gathered her in his arms with more support. The embrace thew Calliope into returning the kiss after a few seconds and the two continued the joining in the dark corner. Then she dropped the Biostruct device's container, a flimsy box of thin plastic and metal. The corner of the box shattered at striking the hexagon-grate floor, pieces of it falling through to the spaces below the lounge. The fall made enough noise that it prematurely ended the kiss, but slowly instead of abrupt. "You dropped your Biostruct device, Specialist Gans," noted the Pakkrat verbally to her. Calliope breathed in and tried to recover from the embrace and the localized commotion on the floor. She looked up to the taller Terran. "It is now defective. It will never sell. It will have to be disposed of, Pakkrat." "If you say so, ma'am," admitted the trader. "Pity I can't purchase it either - at a discount of course for its damaged state. You aren't authorized to sell it to me after all." Calliope reached up and touched her lips, seemingly still savoring the experience she had just had. At last she requested, "Would you dispose of it for me, sir? I can't leave the others here. Duty." "I would serve happily, Specialist." With that, the Pakkrat bent down and lifted the Biostruct device box with a shattered corner. All else seemed to be in proper shape inside it. "You, um, you can see a Sentinel on the station once you purchase a Biostruct...once they become available I mean." Pakkrat half-turned and leaned in again, "Thanks for your advice, Calliope." He then left her there to recover by leaning back against the station's bulkhead in the lounge. On his way out of the lounge, the Terran Trader passed an advertisement monitor. Being viewed at this second was an advertisement for the Sabine Order Call Forward interpolation service. *Let the Doctor help you Answer the Call here in Saturn's NET-7 SOL station. Call Forward. Meet the new you.* Hmmm, thought the Pakkrat. Watch the tele and Answer the Call at the same time. Nice idea. With this notion, the Terran turned right in the main lobby of Arx Spartoi and made for the hangar instead of asking for the nearest local Doctor. Making his way out of the station, the Pakrkat missed the call Reclaimer Ort made to Vinda, telling her that the Terran had acquired a Biostruct and had dodged the local Sentinels at the station by leaving. "What?!" exclaimed Vinda over the line. Vinda called Gans a minute later. "I told you not to sell any Biostruct devices, Calliope," she reminded the Specialist. "And I did not sell a single Biostruct device today, Magna Vinda," answered Calliope resolutely. "He must have went rubbish diving for one before it was incinerated, or some other Terran thievery." "Jericho, lend me strength!" was Vinda's reply before the line went dead. Vinda's next call across Endriago sector featured orders to shut down the Sector Gate to Lagarto, in hopes of keeping the departing Terran from escaping the sector. Then she could have her Sentinels hunt down and reclaim him within Sabine Order jurisdiction. "Is he there yet?" the leader of the Sentinels inquired insistently. The nearby observatory responded, "No, Magna Vinda. Our scopes show that he took a different tack. Towards Altair III. He means to leave Progen space via Moto in 61 Cygni B. Flabbergasted, Vinda swore, "Vita Theodora, deliver me!" Though she could order the Lagarto Gate into dormancy, the Sabine leader had no jurisdiction over the system gate to Altair. And given the recent chaos in Altair III sector where an illegal checkpoint had been set up by one of her errant Sentinels to stop a Jenquai, Vinda had to keep hands-off that stargate. But she knew that should this Terran with the Pakkrat Master Genome receive the Call, the gene-map would be scanned. It was sure to leak out. Vinda needed help. In a bad way. Knowing she could not send another herd of her Sentinels after yet another set of itinerant genes after the last scandal, she tapped a different source of help. The leader was reluctant to do even this, but she had no other alternatives. The Collegia would ask questions of any Sabine entering Altair III. So, Vinda made a call to a very remote location on the same Endriago Planet as the Porvenir Mons. Across the jagged lavascape of the fiery planet was one who could aid her. * * * It was a title she knew she could never be recognized or say in public, but First Sabura Siobhan was just finishing a training session with the first fully-successful, handful generation of Vinda's Sabura Warriors Project when the call came. Nobody but Magna Vinda called the Sabura Compound and even then only directly from Porvenir Mons. Siobhan went to the only communications panel on the campus to answer Vinda. "Magna Vinda. You aren't due for an insp-" greeted Siobhan and was summarily cut off by the Sabine woman. "First Sabura Siobhan, I need your help," said Vinda who to the Warrior looked a little stressed and worried. "There's a Terran out there that I need you to follow. He's a security risk of the highest order both to the Sabine Order and the greater Progen Republic. I need you to get close to him and make sure he does not endanger us. Take on your old guise of a Centuriata courier and tail him. He's on his way to Altair III and means to return to Terran space." Siobhan nodded, but then asked, "Vinda, why don't you use the Sentinels for this? Why engage us Sabura?" "Stars and garters, girl!" exclaimed Vinda as if Siobhan had launched a weapon of mass destruction at Vinda. "After recent events, I cannot send the Sentinels as some of them are proving to be over-eager idiots who want to procreate with me. Besides, the Collegia is watching Altair III like hunting hawks and it is doubtful the Progen Combine will allow a Sabine through Moto's demilitarized front line, given the Jenquai problem two weeks ago." "What should I do if he proves to become an active security leak?" asked Siobhan who now saw the more subtler reasons for Vinda's request of her. "Try to silence him first passively, but if he continues, I'll need him reclaimed." "Magna Vinda, we don't reclaim Terrans." "This one you do. Details on attached encrypted file. Vinda out." There was no file image on the Terran's face, no mug-shot of him. Yet several station cameras at Arx Spartoi had filmed him in dingy white fashions strutting through the corridors. He was tall. He had a short-haired brush of gray hair and a crisp line of gray beard. Neat but heeled. Somehow, to the First Sabura, this man looked vaguely familiar but his gait was a typical Terran confident strut. Siobhan continued examining the files as she fired up her modified Centuriata Warrior-class vessel, the *Kitten*, her baby. The two massive engine thrusters roared to life and the ship lifted with a grace not becoming of a Warrior-class vessel. It was colored a nonstandard and metallic bright and hot pink. "Kitten" was lettered on the wings. Six mounts held various energy and plasma beam weapons. The hull was short and stubby, compact like a tiny feline coiled to pounce. Siobhan knew the weapons were snubbed by other Warriors of the Sabura and the Centuriata. She had six projectile cannons hidden in her cargo hold with plenty of ammunition available, the painful impact rounds that she reserved for targets of her ire. On the outside, the *Kitten* was a cute courier vessel, slated for speed and security, the signs of a messenger one should not mess with. On the inside was the true Warrior as a second shield system sat dormant along with a combat engine to be feared. In a moment's notice, Siobhan could go from cute and cuddly to claws and teeth. And she loved it when others assumed they could defeat her vessel. The variant always seemed to lure in pirates like the egotistical Chavez or the draconic Red Dragon Tongs. The *Kitten* took the sky, equipped for as much speed as the Warrior class could muster. Because Siobhan's Warrior vessel could pass as a Centuriata, (even her genes were based off the Centuriata pattern), she would have no trouble passing through Altair III and into Moto, the 61 Cygni A-to-B corridor sector. The Progen Combine would assume she was just another battle messenger on her way through. Now Called Forward as a Beta-caste Sabura from the ranks of the immortal Warriors, Siobhan was much more and perhaps an improvement upon the Warrior elite. Though the Sabura woman was every bit loyal to the Republic, she did her part through the guidance of Vinda and her Sabine Sentinels. The Centuriata had become crystallized in their ways and means. As a 'mother' to the new Sabura, Siobhan had a prime opportunity to become one of the movers and shakers of the Republic. She would make the Sabura shine from inside the rank-and-file Centuriata. For the Sabura had something the Centuriata were soon to realize they did not: a conscience. Siobhan sped along, following the trail of the Terran Tradesman vessel, fed as she was by the intelligence of Endriago sector and soon Altair III. The Collegia were on good terms with their "big brother" warriors and would point her the fastest routes to the GETCo gate to Moto. Yet for her ability to track the Terran in the registered *Labyrinth Runner*, (now that sounded familiar too somehow), Siobhan found the Terran an adept navigator and a speed demon *par excellence*. She found her ship chasing the trader through the warzone known as Moto, then the mineral rich Aganju of 61 Cygni A. The Terran did not stop for souvenirs as he made way through Terran space onto the Tau Ceti system, the corporate property of InfinitiCorp, no doubt his employer. In New Edinburgh sector, Siobhan though she might lose her prey in the mega-corporation's private InfinitiGate to Earth, but the man did not take that route. Perhaps his destination was not Earth, nor Somerled Station, the InfinitiCorp headquarters of Tau Ceti. No, the quite visible and white vessel exited Tau Ceti across the galaxy to Beta Hydri solar system, the neutral territory of the Glenn Commission. And still the Terran did not stop there. If he was on a project for his employer, he would have stopped by now or here in Beta Hydri if he was some sort of information broker. But now Siobhan tracked his movements onward back to Sol, the home system of all humanity. Because the Terran was built for speed and the fact that he took no main nav-routes, Siobhan had trouble keeping up with his ship. When she gated into the next sector, the Sabura had to guess at the Terran's warp wake as to which was his next stargate exit and thus his route. And still he showed no sign of knowing he was being followed. There was plenty of traffic here in Beta Hydri as a mining hub of the galaxy. It was by deductive reasoning and Siobhan's personal experiences in her past contacts that she was able to deduce the Terran's final destination. He had made off with a Biostruct device according to the files and the shadowed activity in the lounge's camera eye recording said that he had manipulated Calliope Gans for it. The Terran meant to use the device for a Call Forward interpolation service, either on himself or another. Given the humorous, vulgar and widespread galactic advertisements of one particular Doctor of the Call Forward, Siobhan could think of one destination that stood out: Saturn's NET-7 SOL, home of Net-7 News and Dr. Pakkratius' office where he dared to do business using the secrets of the Sabine Order. Now Siobhan had only to make way to the newscorp station. It would take some time for this Terran to find, request, purchase and answer the Call Forward under the Doctor's care. His advertisement was being blared over the sector comm relay beacons even now: *The Doctor is IN at NET-7 SOL for all your Call Forward needs. Answer the Call today! Call Forward. Meet the new you.* Though he was just trying to make light of the process, Siobhan half-bristled and half-smiled at the humor. The Centuriata would have been incensed at their gene-immortality wholesale marketed like some common vendor item, component or system. But the Sabura Siobhan found the irony funny as she entered Saturn sector. Imperator Pakkrateus, with whom Siobhan had contact had the same sense of humor. Perhaps it was hard-printed in the genome with the Doctor, his older clone brother. Siobhan had never met the Pakkratius, but had viewed many of the so-called Anchor-rat's broadcasts over the galactic news source, Net-7 News. His face was becoming iconic in media, even to compete with Anchorwoman Zona Mason. Though the two were clone brothers, having the same genes, Imperator Pakkrateus looked far older for being the younger of the two. In her own adventures with the Imperator, Siobhan had learned that he suffered a one-in-eight-million odds of a gene fluke that caused his body to age slightly faster. Called Methuselah's Syndrome, the younger clone brother, Pakkrateus, always looked about a decade older than his truly older brother Pakkratius. Even then the two led very different lives and upbringings in the Collegia Forgemasters and Sabine Order respectively. And though their Factions were wedging apart, both had developed a brotherly friendship despite their separate iteration origins. It was a mystery still to Siobhan how this was. Now today, it seemed that the Sabura Warrior would meet the Doctor side of the genome that made up the two *Pakkrati*, the Sabine Sentinel. Hopefully it would be while the Terran was answering the Call Forward. * * * The Pakkrat sauntered happily into the main, studio lobby of NET-7 SOL, the neutral news station servicing the entire galaxy's need for the latest updates. He had a good year and a half of the newscorp broadcasts as he climbed the license ladder of his backwoods career. Yet as he watched camera crews and technicians set up for more segments and programming, he was about to ask for directions to the Doctor when a short and very stylized Terran female passed in front of him. "Not another one!" said the woman who reeked of stage makeup and chem-permed hair and looking at the trader. "Excuse me?" apologized the surprised Pakkrat. "Really?" demanded the lady. "Another look-alike impressionist for that stage-stealer. And not a very good one." She continued to dress down the off-guard trader. "Oh that's right! It's coming close time for Hallowed One's Eve and you want get a closer look at him. Such awkward fandom. You don't have his eyes for one thing..." "Ma'am I really don't kn-" the Pakkrat tried to explain himself before being interrupted. "You're one of his loyal fans come to fawn over him, aren't you?" demanded the lady. She was herself slightly interrupted by the call of a nearby technician. "You're on in fifteen, ma'am," announced the man in station uniform with a headset. The Pakkrat fired back at the confronting woman as she began to turn towards the set, "And you, ma'am. Are you dressed up as Zona Mason, Anchorwoman for Net-7 News for *Halloween*?" It caught the woman half-step before she recovered and went before the cameras. The trader saw the direction signs for the station's social lounge and departed from the studio, its rude celebrities and the entourage crews. The lounge was smaller and more Glenn Commission in its architecture. It had all the retro-look of his own era, thought the Pakkrat. Neon signs of various colors flashed or glowed alongside advertisement monitors and of course the monitors that fed directly from the adjacent news rooms he had just departed. Walking to a touch monitor, he ran a search for the station's Doctor of the Call Forward and came up with a room number a flight above the lounge. There was a brief moment of soreness in his arm which was different this time. Instead of a chronic dull ache, it was also heralded with a tingly sensation up the left side of his spine. This was new to the Pakkrat and he savored it as he rubbed his arm. It was as if he had been here before. It felt like *deja-vu*. But he shouldered the tingle and massaged out the soreness as he walked up the ramp to the next landing up. He was no Psi or at least he did not believe such was in his family tree. The Terran Trader was frozen before the sliding door of... DR. PAKKRATIUS, NET-7 NEWS ...when it opened before he could touch the buzzer. The door had a scratch or penetration that looked recent, as if someone had rammed a pointy object through its outer metal. The door opened fully and a Progen Sentinel with the Pakkrat's face stood before him in surprise. The Pakkrat must have had the same gawking gaze because both men stood there, the Progen looking up at the barely taller Terran. The Progen wore a white flight jacket over his racial armor, a utility belt full of medical gear and two chemical grenades. Progen, go figure. A heavy sidearm pistol with a laser scope rode a holster at his thigh. Net-7 News logos were over his armor instead of the usual Progen Republic's fisted honeycomb symbol. "I appreciate the fandom, I do," said the Progen first while the Pakkrat recovered. "But you don't need to go about mimicking my actual face. You are Terran. Show some individuality." "Coming from a Progen with *my* face," answered the trader, "that's like the pot calling the kettle black." "Excuse me?" returned the Doctor. "Old Earth saying back in my day." The Progen looked down at the InfinitiCorp badge that was poking out the top of the Terran's lapel trench pocket. Reading the name and the ages (plural) on the crystal employee badge, he looked closer at the trader. "Is this some sort of Hallowed One's Eve joke?" asked the Progen Doctor. "Somewhat what she said," answered the Terran who thumbed back behind him at the studio he had arrived from. "I don't find this amusing," declared the Progen who put his fists on his hips. "Neither do I. You have my face." "Rather the reverse, sir." "Oh?" challenged the Terran. He held out his crystal badge seeing that the Progen man before him had glanced at it. "Who came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm almost 200. You?" "That's impossible," the Doctor declared with crossing of his arms. It was a finality that said the encounter was soon to end. "Whatever. Look, I am here to answer the Call Whatever-thingy." "You're here for interpolation, Terran, not to Answer the Call, but close enough," corrected the Progen. The Pakkrat held out the Biostruct device case with the shattered corner. The Doctor with his face looked at it then received the case, examining it. "A little worse for wear, don't you think?" asked the Progen. The Terran trader shrugged. As long as the device inside worked. The Pakkrat had never engaged the service before. "Step inside then, Mr.-?" "Pakkrat." The Progen Sentinel rolled his eyes as he admitted the Terran. "Really?" "Says so on my badge, didn't it?" Before the two men could get any more in trouble with each other, the Doctor directed the patient to his mini-laboratory adjacent to his quarters here in the station. It was clean yet small, meant for only one patient and no waiting room. "You don't have a receptionist or a waiting room?" "I have applicants for a secretary and the waiting room is the lounge downstairs where they prescribe Liquid Courage for those thinking of the Call Forward." answered the Doctor. "Have a seat," he said, indicating the recliner in the middle of the lab. While the Trader sat down, the Doctor began technical activities to his equipment. "I've never had this done before," asked the Pakkrat. "Will it hurt?" The Dr. Pakkratius answered with the donning snap of rubber gloves. To the point, the Progen asked, "What are you having removed or as we say, 'Called'?" The Pakkrat had a flash of nervousness at the word 'removed' like it was some sort of excision. "Um. I don't want to make weapons anymore. I may tinker with engines a bit later, but that's still in the air too." "You have strange sayings, Terran," noted the Dr. Pakkratius. "Since I'm the older of us, how did you come by my name?" asked the Terran more calmly as the Sentinel prepared a large syringe and needle. It looked like a weapon to him. "I could ask you the same, but let's stay focussed," answered the Progen. "I'll have to take a base-line sample and scan for your genes to calibrate the lab's systems. Consent?" It sounded formal and yet practiced to say it that way. The man from Earth nodded his consent. "Then remove your coat and roll up your sleeve, please...sir." The Doctor had spoken like he was avoiding their supposedly-shared name. The Merchant Prince rolled up his arm sleeve after pulling off his trenchcoat. His arm was beginning to act up with its dull soreness. And there was that tingling sensation up the left side of his spine. The Pakkratius turned with the needle and attached tank (at least it looked that huge to the Terran), and saw the unidentified mark on the Terran's arm. He looked at the Terran with query in his eyes. Then he began to draw from the same site. With a full sample, the Doctor used it to begin mapping the genes of the Terran. "Are you sure you've never been Called before?" The Progen had turned his back on the patient. "I have never done this before, not to my recollection." "Your arm says otherwise." This caught the Pakkrat by surprise. "My arm? It's been like that ever since I woke up." While the machines began 'calibrating' and mapping his genes, the Pakkrat explained to the Pakkratius his story of how he had awoken after 161 years of cryostasis, the coma, the unidentified mark that was sore on occasion and how he went back to work for InfinitiCorp. After he finished, the systems gave a tiny alert sound of completion. The Doctor turned at the story and read off the information. "Hmm. This looks familiar, Terran." He turned and left the lab. In seconds the Pakkratius came back in with a data-tablet and activated it. Holding the tablet up next to the lab systems monitor, he seemed to be comparing the trader's genes to the ones on the tablet. "Astronomical probabilities," said the Pakkratius. "What?" asked the Pakkrat who was trying to see over the Doctor's shoulder at the results. "You have my gene-map." "That's impossible," said the trader, "I've only been awake for a year and a half and I've never had this Call-thingy." "Yes you have," corrected the Pakkratius. "That mark on your arm may be old, but if your story is true, then you were Called or at least 'mapped' while you were in cryostasis." "Why didn't the physicians at Loki Station identify it then?" asked the Pakkrat. He was beginning to feel vulnerable as if someone had done something non-consensual to his body. "Your Earth physicians are not trained in recognizing the Call Forward. This happened between the advent of the Call and the current allowed services of the Sabine to other, non-Progen races. Someone took your gene-map while you slept." As the Doctor started the process with the help of the Biostruct in the case, the Pakkrat took all this new information inward. The Terran physicians didn't know what they were looking at at the time of his medical. "Why does it feel sore on occasion?" the trader asked as the Doctor worked. "Hold still-," ordered the Doctor as he pushed the sample back into the Pakkrat with the tank-and-needle syringe. "You may feel-" The Pakkrat saw his entire life, minus his time in cryostasis, flash before his eyes. For a millisecond he remembered the Finn, giving him the nav-disc that sent him to the comet that incapacitated his old hauler. However, the intermediate classes and experience in making weapons was missing, though he remembered the classes. For the life of him in that full second of real time, the Pakkrat could not remember what the classes were about or their content. "There. Done," said the Doctor. "Your interpolation is done, 'Pakkrat'. The Doctor then addressed the patient's question. "Your chronic soreness is a mystery but I believe it has to do with someone having Called you Forward while you were still alive. This is something we did not do back then when you say you slept. The Restorers may know more and won't say, but there is plenty of speculation amongst the Doctors as to why this is so." "Oh, this is getting good," said the Pakkrat sarcastically. "Hit me with the most outlandish." "Okaaay," answered the Doctor who seemed to recall a singular example. "You may be sharing a piece of you, as a soul, with me......" His voiced trailed off as if there was more to say but the Doctor only mumbled the last to himself. "Quack," said the Pakkrat. "Come again?" asked the Dr. Pakkratius. "It just seems more than I can believe," the trader lied. "You did ask for the strangest explanation. I was being literal to the request." "Who did this to me while I was asleep, do you think?" The Sabine Order Sentinel answered, "Only the Sabine Order can perform the Call. It would have to be someone in the Order at that time. All Calls Forward are recorded and those records kept on file. Yet, this one done on a Terran back then would be highly illegal. Heretical even. Those records are kept, even if accurate, at Arx Magister under Progen Republic lock and key." "Why such secure records?" "In case anything like this went wrong." The Doctor patted the patient, "Wait here. You need to let the Call set in, in order to avoid Iteration Haze. Just rest while I look into this." The gesture felt like a brother touching an injured kin. The Pakkrat was left as the Dr. Pakkratius went outside the lab, the domicile-office and into the hall outside. The Pakkrat lay there and replayed the lost memories in his head, trying to recall what he'd given up to the Call Forward. Only the most basics of making a weapon remained in his head. Then the memory of the Finn evidenced again. The fixer had been the one to give the trader the nav-disc and the route. Buy why, other than to shave some time off the haul? Was it so he could be Called in his sleep? No. The Terran Alliance had no knowledge of the Sabine procedure back then. Hence, why the mark was still missed over a year ago when he underwent his medical to be released for work. The Progen kept their secrets. He had to see what, if anything, the long-dead Finn knew. But first, there was this mumbo-jumbo about being Called in his sleep by the Progen of the day.
  12. The Thule Project - Ch. I by Pakkrat I. The Lady Isabel DeWynter had reclined in her office aboard Somerled Station in orbit over New Edinburgh, Tau Ceti. She was concluding a meeting with her subordinate executives of InfinitiCorp's Research & Development branch, when her antique desk 'telephone' rang with an alerting ring. It never rang though she had hooked it up to the station's net long ago after having it wired for such. A hush fell upon the gathered executives as the device continued to ring. "Get out, all of you," Lady DeWynter ordered. The top-level personnel stood up, bowed politely and exited her immense and posh office. The archaic telephone continued to ring. Once she was alone, DeWynter lifted the receiver to her ear. She did not answer vocally. A voice, male and old came over the connection. "Lady DeWynter. There is a special message for you from us. Please open the time capsule and take in all that is provided. You will only get one instance before the message self-erases." There was a click as the telephone went silent. Reaching for her personal, shiny black data-tablet, Lady DeWynter, COO of InfinitiCorp opened the documents and kept them open for some time. She speed-read the files initially. Then she re-read much slower the second time. Pacing about the office with the device in hand, DeWynter wore her short, black hair down about her ears even during her office hours. The black silk under her leather overcoat betrayed only a jewelled necklace. Most of her arms were covered in goatskin opera gloves as she swiped past more images. DeWynter's heel boots clicked across the expensive imported marble floor. Her frame was in its prime as she tended to get her workouts in her spare time. Time capsule message was from InfinitiCorp itself over 150 Earth years ago. Its format translated quickly and unpacked to the technology of the current Crystal Age. It was directives and instructions. The sender however, though an upper-echelon employee of the company, was one of a very few members of the secret society of the Shadow Cabinet. The message had been time-triggered by events that were evidencing even as the documents presented themselves to DeWynter. It seemed that the Shadow Cabinet kept tabs on everything that went on everywhere in human space and made sure they were the ones to control the destiny of humanity. DeWynter, a secret member of the Shadow Cabinet, knew that the secret society stretched back throughout human history since the time of the pyramids in Egypt, Earth. Then, for reasons of their own lost to time, the Shadow Cabinet had an experience that caused them to vow to protect humanity from all non-terrestrial influences from then on. Secrecy, subtlety and ruthless manipulations were their hallmark. Other secret groups throughout human history were but side-branch, scapegoat sacrifices the Shadow Cabinet made available to humanity to crush, expose or debunk, all in the name of staying in business of keeping humanity 'safe'. DeWynter herself was beginning to suspect others throughout human space of being member of the Shadow Cabinet, seeing how the secretive entity worked through out history. Who knew if other members were working with her or against her in the grand scheming of the Shadow Cabinet? Was she a player or a sacrificial lamb? In this super-secret missive, DeWynter was to merely sign off on a Search And Rescue of an InfinitiCorp employee that had disappeared over 150 years ago in a discarded space route. Now a distress beacon was signalling from the ship that had disappeared. The *Labyrinth Runner*, captained by an employee call-signed 'Pakkrat' had long ago left with a cargo, supposedly smuggled to InfinitiCorp's chief rival, the Good Earth Trading Company or GETCo. The hauler had never arrived at the intended destination. DeWynter was commanded by the Shadow Cabinet to have an un-manned drone salvage operation authorized, funded and sent to the Kuiper Belt of Sol to bring back the hulk derelict of this Pakkrat's ship. The last file in the time capsule message to Lady DeWynter warned of possible interference from higher intelligences and to take steps to bring home the *Labyrinth Runner* at all costs. The pilot was most likely dead. So the entire salvage would be quick and quiet per the hidden movements of the Shadow Cabinet. She was to cover all of her tracks. Lady Isabel DeWynter committed the documents to memory, making sure she understood all the Shadow Cabinet wished of her. With a shiny, black stylus, the COO of InfinitiCorp signed off on the Drone SAR operation. It would take a month of bureaucracy and logistics for the wreckage to be returned to Earth sector and the cargo re-captured. Then she let the time capsule message erase itself forever. Robotic drones would journey to the beacon's site and extract the ship and bring it to the Infinity Campus in Earth sector. "Joga," said DeWynter to her secretary and bodyguard. "Mistress," answered the Progen woman who came to attention. The genetic-engineered female was both a sleek mass of muscles and so much more and DeWynter took her everywhere she went. The Beta-caste Progen clone was special and would have been forbidden in Terran space had her deeper secret been known. Joga had been given telempathic Psi genes to compliment her powerful frame, armor and weapons. With her mild psionics, Joga was indispensable in DeWynter's meetings and negotiations whenever InfinitiCorp did business. She was never seated except in commute in grav-cars and shuttles. Otherwise the Progen secretary either stood or was asleep in her quarters. "Schedule a flight to Earth sector in a month," DeWynter ordered. "Let us see what this 'Pakkrat' had in his hold." "Yes, Mistress," said Joga who then went to work with her armored forearm vambrace's PDA device. With business flair the secretary had the COO personal vessel scheduled in seconds. Lady Isabel DeWynter then went back to work, business as usual, as if the telephone had never rung. The next month saw the *Andromeda*, DeWynter's personal sleek and black capital ship covertly sending shuttles on inspections tours at the Infinity Campus facility. Neatly, the capital ship was never sensed or scanned such was its stealth capability. DeWynter was on hand when a cadre of drones hauled in a find from Sol's Kuiper Belt. It was a pre-Gate War, InfinitiCorp hauler of an age and registry over 150 years old. Never quite struck from active duty and listed as missing, the *Labyrinth Runner* was pulled into a salvage berth by the drones and parked. The ship's emergency beacon still pulsed its distress. The salvage complete sometime later, DeWynter found she did not get what she wanted and got something she did not want instead. The drones hauled in the cryostasis capsule of a survivor. The pilot was still alive! With the crowd of reporters from Net-7 News, its Earth affiliates, and various net-blog journalists crowding the find, DeWynter was forced to acknowledge the rescue of a long-lost pilot and employee of InfinitiCorp. "Lady DeWynter," asked a Net-7 News Reporter to her distracted displeasure, "the pilot inside is alive and in stable cryostasis. Who is he? What is the history behind this pilot's journey?" "Where is it?" angrily mumbled DeWynter. "Where is what, Lady?" asked another Reporter. The pilot of the salvaged *Labyrinth Runner* was identified and rushed to a medical facility at Loki Station in High Earth orbit and was slowly coaxed over six months from cryostasis, given his extended sleep. Corporate lawyers, oft-deemed "ambulance chasers", immediately fought to represent the comatose pilot and employee of InfinitiCorp. They soon learned that the pilot was both insured and "on the clock" when he disappeared. Courts of Earth subsequently jammed to a standstill over the employee's 161-year retrograde pay, supposedly to be rendered by the company. The pilot's rate of pay was a pittance against the mega-corporation, but it was the continuous amount over the term that made it sizeable. If the courts upheld the case, the man was due to retire three lifetimes over when he woke up. If he woke up. Until then, the courts were an arena spectacle. The vessel's logs were present in the ship's dead computer. It took some time for the technicians to find computers old enough to interface with the computer banks of the old hauler. The ship had been fully loaded with enriched, weapons-grade uranium that had long become depleted by its half-life. When DeWynter did not find what she secretly expected, she hid her furious countenance under a public mask of goodwill toward the pilot, the Pakkrat. After a few barked orders, Lady Isabel DeWynter stalked out on the inspections early, claiming she was tired and secretly retreated to the *Andromeda* and departed back to Tau Ceti. Galactic media had a short attention span, the Pakkrat soon learned as he slowly sat up with the help of his nurses and to the glaring light of the cameras here in the Crystal Age. His trimmed-beard face barely made it on the system news and was soon lost to the glitz and sensationalism of other galactic events that shadowed the patient. Six months of recuperative coma and three weeks of torturous therapy had the Pakkrat back on his feet. Since the courts were still stalled over minutiae of his case, the pilot was at least allowed to continue onward as an employee of InfinitiCorp. He was brought up to speed to the Crystal Age's history with crash-course after crash-course. With a smiling Welcome Home face from COO DeWynter on a masercom connection from Tau Ceti, the Pakkrat was 'graciously' put back in command of a new Terran Tradesman-class vessel (he named it *Labyrinth Runner* after his old hauler) and back to work, like nothing had happened. The only marks that showed were his sore arm, (the source of his mild pain was still a mystery) and his employee crystal badge that showed two employee ages: ~37 years and followed by ~198 years. This was about the full recognition of his claim to all that money the Terran from North America might see. During the Pakkrat's recovery, the Lady DeWynter filed her report and future directives concerning the rescued pilot. She had slim hope, due to the trader's coma, that he would somehow recall his final location before entering cryostasis. *I want this rat watched closely. If he even twitches a whisker wrong, the EarthCorps has permission to terminate the employee. -DeWynter* * * * The Pakkrat fell out of his bed and onto the cold, metal grate that served as the floor to his rented room. His pocket-PDA's alarm was ringing, buzzing, vibrating and otherwise being a nuisance. The man struggled, crawling and trying to make as little contact with the floor as possible as he fished for the device in a pocket of his dingy, off-white trenchcoat. With his vision still blurry from last night's dream of being chased by space angels that shot lightning at him, the Terran found the device and silenced the alarm. The time was still blurry in his vision, but the date managed to penetrate his mind. It was a year and a half or so ago since he'd restarted his career with InfinitiCorp. He was about to celebrate his 150th license milestone and have the option to retire from InfinitiCorp. He'd have done so sooner, but those pesky courts held their own, alien timetable it seemed. "Lights," he managed to rasp out. When nothing happened, the Pakkrat remembered where he was. Progen stations had manual switches for lighting and heating. That's right, he thought. He was still here in a Progen backwater called Nostrand Vor, capital and home to the Collegia Forge-whatevers. The Terran fell back into his bed with his PDA and looked at his itinerary for today. Oh. More of the hauling Collegia-brand "Aromatic Chocolate" to the Aragoth frontier. Great, he thought sarcastically. Pakkrat remembered his last binge of the stuff as he returned here. It had made him so drowsy that he had trudged from the hangar to his room here at Nostrand Vor City on the planet's surface. Yet the Jenquai of Fenris Observatory kept ordering the stuff by the cargo load, so much so that the Pakkrat had been forced to use cargo-expansion technologies to carry twice as much to the happy and lethargic Jenquai in the Aragoth solar system frontier. The Terran trader had shipped so much of the candy that the 'aromatic' aroma of the spiced chocolate had permeated the entirety of his ship's cargo hold. This had been the most backwater-to-frontier shipping route that paid well enough for the eight or so jumps through the InfinitiGates that linked sectors to sectors and solar systems to the edge of human space. Though the Pakkrat had cashed in on the profit of the trade route, he got the impression that it was the local Collegia's Signifier Armicustos that cashed in on something far more valuable. The return trip from Fenris sector, Aragoth saw an entire hold of Raw Data Crystals returned in trade to Nostrand Vor. What was stored on the crystals the Pakkrat could not fathom, yet it was valuable somehow to the Progen of this Faction. The Progen Traders caste had been adamant that these crystals held information to help them get back into the economy when pitted against the likes of InfinitiCorp, GETCo, Sundari, Nishido, BlackSun and a plethora of other developers and manufacturers. If the info was coming from the Jenquai, it was probably a good investment when you saw crystals coming in and candy leaving. This was obviously no normal Terran chocolate, like one purchased at Earth Station, no. This was "Collegia Aromatic Chocolate". If you did not eat it, at least it freshened your immediate living space. Finally he decided to rise and shine, though he felt like a hung sandworm used for fun as a punching bag by the Progen of Nostrand Vor. A notification popped up on his PDA as he was preparing to meet the sandy planetside again. It was closing in on that birthday, his 39th or 200th, (depending on who you asked). What was he going to get himself for his birthday, he asked. How would he celebrate? He did not have many friends. Here in this Crystal Age, Pakkrat had not set aside much time for social life. He, like many other Terran Traders, was focused on making credits (what they called money now) enough to call it a life and kick back on the beaches of Shakti Pleasure Moon and watch scantily-clad Jenquai ladies play in the surf. "Time is money." was the axiom for the capitalistic Terrans. He'd tossed dice at the casino at Friendship 7 Station, played around with the nightlife at Venera Highport. He'd even tried some meditation classes with the Jenquai at the remote Charon Cloister, the very station that had catalogued the so-called Ancient Gate at Akeron's Gate sector. Not much luck there, that he had hoped to be able to soothe chronic soreness that his arm refused to relinquish. On a whim, the Pakkrat looked at his work record and career file on the hand-held device. In this time, the Crystal Age, he was listed with the title "Merchant Prince". That did not make him feel any more royal, given that he was in a one-person rental on a desert planet in the hind-end of Progen space. While an excellent negotiator and haggler over trade goods and was good at navigating the fastest routes through the sectors, the trader had never been much more than a speed-demon engine builder and that was losing its calling as well. He had the basics and some intermediate courses in building weapons, but the Pakrkat's career as a Q-ship pilot was fizzling with no great engagements to speak of. He never felt himself a fighter or militant like those that ran off to join this age's service, the EarthCorps. Making money was always slightly more attractive than glory or victory. So, for his birthday, the Pakkrat decided he was going to have his intermediate skills - what was the term? - *called forward* by the Sabine Order two sectors of Progen space over. Then afterwards, he could try something else besides building or battling. It was called the Call Forward and, according to current affairs, the Progen Sabine Order had only recently allowed its Sentinels to offer the genetic interpolation services out to the citizenry of all races who could afford the expensive and superscience of genetic manipulation. By isolating certain genes, memories, and other un-named traits, the Call Forward allowed the Sabine Order to give back the space that such experiences, training, and what-not took up to the patient. Then the patient could re-route his life or career more to his or her liking. The Terran trader had learned that originally, the Call Forward had been utilized in cloning fallen Warriors of the Centuriata to new life, to serve again. The act of such return was termed "Answering the Call Forward", like some infantry movement clarion call to duty. The Pakkrat had heard stories of Progen who had repeatedly Answered the Call many times and that these Warriors felt and acted as if they were immortal beings. Skills, memories, experiences, personality, and so much more were contained in their "gene-maps" that were recorded by the Sabine Order Reclaimers or found in space along great battle zones. Then like grave-robbers, the Reclaimers would spirit the gene-maps back home to bring the Warrior back from the dead. It was science-meets-necromancy to the Pakkrat and he rubbed his sore arm whenever he thought too much about the Call Forward. Nowadays, the Call Forward was offered, in its lesser fashion, to all three races, the Jenquai, the Terrans and of course the Progen. One need not be found in space dead, (like the Pakkrat may have been) to have internal traits removed and emptied in favor of trying new avenues on life. The Sabine Order advertised the Call Forward as a service towards slow-and-steady perfection of the human genome. And the Pakkrat decided this morning as he left his rental room to take a day off and give up a life of making weapons systems for good. He was a lover, not a fighter. The Terran Trader arisen from High Earth, made for the hangar, bypassing the bazaar. He picked up a Meal Ready to Eat (or MRE) from the lounge and hoped to the Powers it did not have anything sandworm in it. Then the Pakkrat entered his gleaming white Terran trader with a huge wing decal of a circular labyrinth. It was captioned with the ship's name, *Labyrinth Runner*. The Tradesman-class ship he flew was built far more sleek and maneuverable than his old hauler. It had rounded wing rims toward the bow and huge cargo section containers aft. The engines were finned and amidships to the port and starboard side. Humanity had streamlined cargo transport in this Crystal Age. The Terran Tradesman vessel had nigh the most cargo capacity than many other classes without skimping on speed of transport. Now nearing Overall License 150, the *Labyrinth Runner's* many upgrades and tweakings were beginning to feel more a home than a vehicle. Still, in the current times, space was violent. To that order, the Terran from North America had chosen the fire-and-forget weapons of missiles as his ship's favored. The class had sported four hard-points with which to seek out stylish and yet effective weapons. Pakkrat had heard of plenty of nasty fish in the water and chose his load-out carefully. Some of his high-end weaponry had come from pirates, others from biological ship-eaters that could pierce vessels with crystalline teeth and a strong jaw. Other weapons merely were purchased on the open market from various manufacturers like BlackSun, Sparta! and the now-defunct DigiApogee line of Prototypes. To the Pakkrat, a weapon was just another weapon. Offenses and defenses, supplementary devices and core systems all made up his lovely *Labyrinth Runner* a vessel to make the trip fast as possible while avoiding the baddies. As the Pakkrat backed out of the huge port city hangar of Nostrand Vor, he saw the galactic news cycle as Net-7 News played its theme music news jingle and the paired Anchors came into light. One was the vibrant Zona Mason, the Terran Anchorwoman. The other was-. Great Scot! The red-tanned Progen man sitting next to Mason had Pakkrat's face! The trader only saw the face for a split-second and was far away when the blast doors slammed shut before his ship's bow. The thick doors protected the hangar form the harsh sandstorms and sandworm fauna of the desert planet. Had he been mistaken, the Pakkrat wondered. Perhaps he was still trying to wake up, the Terran told himself. Well the Progen man did have red irises and a much redder skin complexion. His own were a silver-gray, a byproduct of having his light blue eyes lighten so much after such an extended cryostasis. A human's iris coloration still aged even as the sleeper slept. The pilot ran a hand through his bristly stiff gray hair as he winged the Tradesman around and flew off to the gate to planetary orbit. Maybe he was getting old for a man of almost two hundred. Soon, the Terran Trader was at maximum warp as his ship sped across sectors of space. He had long ago decided that nav-paths were for less-skilled or equipped ships. The *Labyrinth Runner* had now attained nav-independence and its reactor and engines could take straight lines over most any of the largest of sectors of the known and trodden solar systems. Thus, the Pakkrat made quick work of the Altair III system and was soon to enter Endriago sector of Gallina. * * * She had only returned to Endriago a little more than a week. Praenoman Lareth Vinda-K (though should anyone call her by her initial iteration name she would have them reclaimed) or more formally Magna Vinda stood before a bank of computers and peered back and forth between the wall-mounted monitors and her vambrace PDA. The armored Beta-caste leader of the Sabine Order of the Progen Republic thought she might have a break from all the excitement of this past year. Now this. A warning in deep, flashing red called for the attention of Magna Vinda. Though on the public net terminal, the notification could only be accessed by Vinda herself, decoded only by algorithms, a password and a quick gene-map scan. These precautions she took as she then downloaded the alarming message to her PDA. Reading it as she stalked off at the intrusion, Vinda saw the index tags and looked about her at the station's crews, staff, workers, technicians and visitors. This had to be a cruel joke! Vinda knew what others said about her behind her back. But this topic was too far in the past and far too encrypted to be some laugh at Vinda's expense. The notification had once been put into place many years ago, should its conditions be met. But this one had to be an error, a glitch or net hiccup. A gene-map's DNA double helix and codes fell across her PDA screen and warned her of incoming trouble. The Pakkrat Master Genome was currently outside of the Sabine Gene Repository, the home of the Restorers in the space above Endriago Planet. The notification was a fail-safe alarm Vinda had input long ago after she had iterated her lab rats, the Pakkratius and his younger clone brother Pakkrateus. But now the original genome was loose in space and the sector scanners had detected it moving across the sector. Magna Vinda, leader of the Sabine Order became worried. If anyone scanned those genes and saw that they had once been gleaned from a Terran, the gene-scientist paper trail would lead back to Vinda. Using Terran genes was only one step less heretical to include inside the Progen matrix than using the hated Jenquai genes. It was heresy to taint the Progen race and Vinda knew it. She had committed such a sin long ago with the Pakkrat Master Genome when she was young, rash and power-hungry. It was a deep, dark skeleton she had kept hidden and on lock-down for as long as those two had been iterated and educated in a Progen gestation matrix. If this got out, she and her other Projects, the Sabura Warriors for another example, were in danger. She had to take action immediately so soon from the recent trouble she had undertaken across the galaxy in the new, Jenquai-discovered Antares Frontier. *Damn!* She went to the first Reclaimer she found. It was Doctrinaire Zyrith Sky, a Sabine Order Sentinel of the First Charge. With an edge in her voice that meant business, she ordered, "Get me sat-comm. I need to a direct and encrypted connection with Arx Spartoi. Now!" The Reclaimer saluted immediately and ran off to make the proper, secured connections. Soon, Vinda was in touch with the orbital station, the Place of Life - Arx Spartoi. Arx Spartoi was so-named because it was there that the Sabine Order most often performed the Call Forward through the use of the one-use Biostruct Devices that were sold, thus garnering the Station and the Sabine Order another means of income besides the Order's usual mining, refining, scientific and genetic avenues. The Biostructs were purchased by those seeking the interpolations and were keyed by a Sentinel to target the patient's traits that were to be removed. Only one source on the entire station made the Biostructs available. Calliope Gans, a female Progen Specialist answered the secured line to the planet surface, to Porvenir Mons, the signal's source. Calliope Gans spoke first with "Gans here. Magn-" but she was cut off quickly by Vinda. "Calliope. One of the Pakkrats are closing fast on Arx Spartoi. Whomever they are, they are not to be sold Biostruct devices, acknowledge." Vinda's voice was fast and imperative to the Specialist. "Yes, Magna Vinda. What should I-" and again she was truncated. "I don't know. Get rid of him. Just don't let him buy any Biostruct devices." "Yes, ma'am," answered Gans who saluted as Vinda cut the signal with finality. Vinda chewed a thumb, something she was apt to do when again under stress. *As if Antares had not been enough!* Then Vinda called the Sabine Gene Repository, home of the hermetic Restorers - keepers of the gene-maps there. She asked if a long series of numbered gene-maps were secure. In that series was hidden the Pakkrat Master Genome, the same genome that was docking at Arx Spartoi right now. In seconds, the Restorers assured Magna Vinda that all the gene-maps she listed were indeed secure and under the tightest precautions available. No one had visited the Repository in days. So, the only remaining explanation, however improbable, had to be true. With the service-stricken (Terrans called it being 'fired') Magister Magna Dr. Pakkratius, Anchor-rat of that nosy Net-7 News currently in Saturn and on the air right now; it could not be him at Arx Spartoi. Additionally, Vinda had intelligence from her Sentinels that the younger, Collegia iteration Imperator Pakkrateus was running tours from Friendship 7 to Mercury Station in Glory's Orbit; he too could not be returning to the Place of Life anytime soon. There was a social wedge growing between the Sabine Order and their errant child, the Collegia Forgemasters. Neither of the two iterations was close to Endriago, Gallina. The last and final probability came to Vinda. The original Pakkrat had to be awake after over 150 years! Such cryostasis had to be a miracle to survive. Yet the sensor satellites had been calibrated to detect gene-maps over the entirety of Endriago sector perfectly. It had to be the Terran! Not to let one hand know what the other hand was doing, Vinda called to all the Sabine Order Sentinels aboard Arx Spartoi. Her orders were simple: should a male Terran, posturing as the celebrity Anchor-rat for Net-7 News, the Pakkratius, show for a Call Forward, that Sentinel should Reclaim him 'accidentally' and his gene-map stored at the Sabine Repository until further notice. To the Progen, reclamation was just another euphemism for killing a person for their gene-map and putting it in storage for later use. It was not murder as the Progen were supposedly immortal via the Call Forward. Utterly destroying a gene-map; now that was murder. There were only two Doctors (those Sentinels who had completed training in Calling patients Forward) currently aboard the station, both of whom acknowledged the reclamation order. All other Sentinels were of lower license, yet to take the final exams and practicals. "For the Republic, Magna Vinda." "Hail Vinda. It will be done." If the docking Pakkrat, or whatever it was truly lived and breathed, Vinda meant to cover her ass. * * * The *Labyrinth Runner* glided easily in the red, iron-girded docking berth of Arx Spartoi. It's pilot, the Pakkrat emerged and smiled. It was getting closer to his birthday and he wanted wanted to look and feel a little younger through "Answering the Call". So, he was smiling with a plan to answer the call of the wild when he got back to Terran space. After asking directions to where to go for the Call, he marched happily like a customer about to get a pedicure, a shampoo, and a shave all simultaneously. Into the lounge, a restaurant, bar and a Sentinel supplies vendor hall rolled into one spacious environment of more Progen red and steel everywhere. This lounge was at least cleaner than most Progen dives that were often full of cigar smoke and reeked of testosterone and egotism. A Progen named Ort pointed the Terran Trader to the shadowy corner where stood a Progen woman. The Pakkrat put on his best, Befriending face and took the steps vibrantly. At the upper landing, his arm started its dull ache again. Rubbing his arm, he bowed politely to her. "Greetings, ma'am," Pakkrat began. "I'm to understand that to um- answer-" "Yes, Terran," answered the woman. She was armored in red and steel and yet wore a loose-fitting white smock under all those heavy plates. Cybernetic enhancements replaced her ears with specialized receptors. Her hair was shaved to a set of falls behind her head and she wore thin, black, oval sunshade glasses as an accessory even in this dim corner of the lounge. "Specialist Calliope Gans, and you are-?" "Merchant Prince Pakkrat, ma'am, if you buy into such titles," Pakkrat identified himself. "And what can I do for you, Merchant Prince Pakkrat?" "I was hoping you could help me, y'know, answer the call."
  13. The Thule Project - Prologue by Pakkrat Through its constituent Librarians, the coalesced fragments of itself, the Malacore Consciousness gazed at its creation. It was the Index. The Index was created by the Malacore Consciousness to chronicle the entirety of human history, no matter how far back in time or how distant into the future humanity's story reached. With a portion of the Malacore Consciousness set adrift outside the time-space continuum, it was able to view humanity's timeline at any point. It created the Index for the purpose of recording all of it. Though no longer a single, Terran human man, the Consciousness that was once Dr. Elijah Malacore and listed in that period of his life as "P3889" by the Psionic Registry Act of Terra now gazed intently through its Librarians at the Index. It saw many entries that, to human eyes might look like large crystals that were capable of showing the recordings of pivotal moments. The being had seen many things that others felt was too grand for one mind alone. It had gone forward in time to watch as humanity rose to Dominion. It had viewed every instance that man had ever been brought to the brink of survival. The Malacore Consciousness was able to see every aspect of humankind's activity. The immense mind that was Dr. Elijah Malacore saw its first, purposeful birth in the timeline it now viewed from outside time and space. The year was 1987 C.E. to a woman named Dr. Carolyn Malacore. She had seen the arrival of light to Earth from her penthouse in Buenos Aires, Brazil. The light had journeyed millions of years to her planet. It told the story of the supernova of The Great Megallanic Cloud. Since then, the Malacore Consciousness had lived quite a few lifetimes, moving from human birth to human birth. This was the time of learning for the Malacore Consciousness as a fraction of humans began to be born with "the gift" of psychic mental abilities later termed 'psionics'. These human psionics thought differently as their awareness and consciousness was more open than the un-gifted humans. Some races went on to colonize space, embracing psionic disciplines and living openly with the gift. Some left on Earth were feared, misunderstood and marginalized and even ostracized for being gifted. The Psionic Suppressions even went so far as to commit pogroms to attempt to eradicate the Psis as being anathema to normal and mundane humanity. The being continued to view the Index, its creation. History played itself. If there had not been a fraction of itself blown outside the time-space continuum by the destruction of the star in the Great Megallanic Cloud, for which it had been a witness of a great battle of inhuman entities in a war; the Malacore Consciousness could not have felt what came next. The timeline tremor came as subtly as a baby's smile, a lover's kiss, or a zephyr on a field of marigold flowers. The Malacore Consciousness felt it as one views a tactical move on a single chessboard in an infinite field of chessboards, each playing out its own contest. It was an offensive move that had ramifications touching upon the Malacore Consciousness. It was an attack. Malacore did not have to ask why it was under attack. It had seen too much and was being attacked at a pivotal moment in time just before its psionic Ascendance. If the attack continued to succeed, it would have removed the Consciousness, its Librarians and the Index from this universe, possibly even destroying it utterly. This was unacceptable and so it made a move on the same chessboard metaphor to counter the attack. The initial attack was limited as the new opponents, the Greys (or Israfel as they were sometimes called) were limited themselves. The response counter-move, was likewise limited. To avoid time paradox, the opponents could not make direct changes to the timeline where they were concerned previously. Thus, the Malacore Consciousness could not warn itself as the human Psi, the Dr. Elijah Malacore. Both moves had to be subtle and cunning, delicate as a butterfly's wing-flap. The Malacore reached out and executed its move upon the dreaming mind of a Terran scientist engaged in applied research and development. Dr. Cuinnit Dougal listened to the Malacore with his unconsciousness with hopes he could remember and journal his strange dreams and unidentified visions. This maneuver was easier on mundane, un-gifted Terrans as Psis had learned to defend against such sendings. The contact was gentle and patronly, loving and yet alien. Dr. Dougal listened as the Malacore gave guidance. The sendings took weeks of the mortal human's time, something lost or infinitesimally small to the timeless being that was the Malacore Consciousness. Once its counter-move was completed, the Malacore Consciousness went back to viewing its Index to see the consequences play out in that period of the Earth and Beyond.
  14. [attachment=2883:Siobhan Overwatch.jpg] The Thule Project - Foreword by Pakkrat To finish off the Pakkrat Master Genome trilogy, a clarification must be put down. This is a work of fan fiction and is not to infringe upon the original creators of Earth & Beyond. Though the characters are of my creation, the grand world of Earth & Beyond is not. I have made it no secret that I enhance worlds that I enter for the better enjoyment for my fellow colleague players. As to canon, where possible I tried not to bend the world in too many places. The story was gleaned from the Earth & Beyond Storyline Resource document and sort-of spoke to me this story, though not all at once. This third installment underwent at least three revisions to refine the events therein. In hopes that the reader, or player of the Earth & Beyond Emulator, will spark some of their own imagination, I encourage them to dig through all of my posts, character bio-dossiers, short stories, and novels to truly gain all that my storytelling has to offer. The Pakkrat Master Genome does not merely start with the first book and end with the third. The entirety is contained in parts of all my posts. It behooves the reader then to get acquainted with the entries I have made over the period spanning September of 2012 to February 2014. I have high hopes that the trilogy and its supplementary stories and dossiers will encourage others to write, post, or otherwise publish a little something of themselves or their characters for the rest of us. Please enjoy and feel free to comment as I feel a sense of community when I hear back from readers. -Pakkrat
  15. Wolf's Daughter - Prologue by Pakkrat A building down the street was collapsing. Even as her assailant was focused upon her, she chose to tilt her head to look at the crumbling building and hear its grinding structure fall. It kicked up a huge, expanding cloud of dust, debris, and sound. She watched with a logical dissociation as Jove City crumbled in its death throes. Such was war. With detached mental calm, she returned her pained gaze to the insignia lapel on the uniform of the Dog Soldier who was using her. Pain registered repeatedly in multiple places upon her body, but through her psionic training she was able to retreat from the physical and the emotional aspects into a walled-off kernel that was mind. From there she watched as the Dog Soldier used her body in his own primal madness. Around them, the city's pacification was without order and its beauty was war-torn, its spirit fading rapidly. She noted the name on his lapel, obviously some given nickname. This "Wolf" was enraged, maddened, and totally given over to his id, the primal aspect of fulfillment of desires. Right now his desire to rape her was at the forefront. Yet try as he might, despite the violation of her flesh, she would not give him any satisfaction of her use. She had already partitioned off her mind from body and emotions when the Dog Soldiers attacked the domiciles of the hiding citizenry of Jove City. She decided to remember this one's designation, this 'wolf'. He had left her for dead, having spent himself and seeing no suffering come forth. A radio call had come to move to the next section of the orbital city. Jupiter's angry eye storm gazed down upon the orbital space city, watching the carnage, destruction, and wild abandon. Citizens died, structures collapsed and any resistance had been broken. The Dog Soldiers continued to expend ordinance, maim simple citizens of the Jenquai race, and stalk through the city streets for more prey. Such was war. Through her psionic training allowing her to partition off her mind from body, the Jenquai woman had appeared paralyzed to the Dog Soldier, Wolf. So, when he had used her and heeded the call to more destruction, she slowly allowed the pain and injuries to register. Excruciating agony, emotional suffering, and utter sorrow for fellow citizenry poured in and were felt. She felt again. Crying and sobbing, the woman slowly began to test her physical body for capability. Her blood was soaking her tunic. She had taken a round of gunfire. She could still move even though the 'wolf' had bitten her neck and drank her blood. His red teeth she would remember. Now that she could feel again, fear and violation spoke to her. She had been shot, bitten and raped after the blast that threw her body into a corner of the domicile. Before she could give up and succumb to death, she would fight. Another emotion registered. It was anger. It was not the anger of rage nor of vengeance. It was more controlled and focused, purposeful, giving impetus for her to move and take action again. She lay there in the corner and began to administer first aid with what she could reach or tear off her flayed clothes to tie tourniquets and makeshift bandages for her neck and projectile wound. Her apartment was, by standard building codes, equipped with a first aid kit. If she could crawl to the closet, perhaps she might have enough physical energy to save her life. Dignity and perhaps retribution could come later. Psionic prioritisation was her particular gift. She could detach and partition her psyche into mind, causality, emotions and the physical to compartmentalize each and take actions in each realm as needed. It was this sort of focus that allowed her into the medical fields of the local Jenquai med-surg center, her occupation. Arm over arm, she dragged her body through the apartment to the closet. Pain bursted through her body and crashed upon her emotions. Wave after wave of violated sorrow for herself, her family, the neighbors, and the Jenquai of Jove City fed her anger-focus. When she reached the apartment first aid kit, she was fully in the moment and determined to live through this. She had made a decision to survive. Her hands worked methodically with trained precision even through her physical and emotional pain. She was the physician and the patient. No questions were necessary. A painkilling drug was first administered. Then came a drug used for keeping shock at bay. The psionic training she had could sustain her for a while, but only as long has her will held. Thus, the drug pushed her forward, further into the here and now. She continued to work on her wound. Her training used what was at hand in the first aid kit. The impact projectile was extracted after the local deadened the area. A coagulant foam stopped any further bleeding. Jenquai medicine was far advanced than the likes of Terran or the barbaric Progen. Humanity, it seemed, had taken three separate paths in the realm of healing. Slowly and more humanely, the Jenquai woman stopped the entropy that was her death. Weeks later, the Jenquai woman, Juna Wa, was extracted by resistance fighters and put aboard an outbound ship full of refugees. Juna was the only physician left on that last vessel and she worked nonstop on the injured even as the ship left Jove City, never to return. She fought the Progen occupation through her skill-set, as a med-surg tech. Keeping her people alive was her battle. Life was too precious now to the Jenquai race. The Ashanti Maru had escaped to the far side of the Jovian moon, Europa. For months Med-tech Juna Wa worked as a ship's physician until too pregnant with child for duty. A daughter was born aboard the Ashanti Maru. "Wolfsdottir," breathed Juna, when the nurse asked her the female infant's name. "Her name is Wolfsdottir."
  16. Wolf's Daughter - Epilogue and Acknowledgements by Pakkrat I was hauling yet another full cargo hold of that stinky, "Collegia Aromatic Dark Chocolate" to the edge of known space when I was watching the galactic news. Here I am, in the so-called Crystal Age and I see some Progen on the tele with my face. Well, it wasn't exactly my face, but this Pakkratius guy, he could have been my twin if he were from Earth instead of Mars. Maybe I was just seeing things as I ran the Nostrand Vor - Fenris trade run. Was it the chocolate that was making me drowsy at the helm? I rubbed my sore arm to keep myself awake as I plod on for the likes of InfinitiCorp. They were the ones to crack me out of that ice block and put me back in the saddle. I could still be a rat-sicle otherwise. *The Pakkrat Master Genome continues.....* Acknowledgements A word of thanks goes out to the players of: Vitaes, who helped me understand synesthesia, more specifically chromesthesia and how it can hinder or help those whom have it. He was helpful in giving me a run-down on the character Vitaes and the Grandmaster's history and family. Zyrith, who though I haven't had the pleasure to chat with in a while, gave some of her character, Zyrith Sky's face-time with the Pakkratius. Through her, I got to show some details I found in the original Storyline Resource for Earth & Beyond. ShadowWalker and thanks to him, I have a Jenquai assassin with a Carolinian accent stuck in my head. He was my go-to source for the Jenquai crunch (game mechanics).
  17. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. IX by Pakkrat IX. Their leader had said to let nothing stand in their way to complete the mission to capture a gene-thief of Progen Republic secrets. The Sentinels had also been ordered to leave no asteroid without a search. The taskforce began to strip mine the asteroids. One by one in this sector, the gene-thief and her accomplices would be rooted out eventually. Meanwhile, the leader of the overheard Defenders was confronting Magister Hellstrom. Protesting the presence of the 'invading' Progen, this Joo Li of the Shinwa chastised the Sabine Sentinel. "I don't know why you are here, Magister," said the Ken'shao, "but you and your rag-tag explorers are to leave Jenquai space. The fact that you managed to open Vishao's Gate is proof enough that you have committed espionage and have crossed uninvited into the Antares solar system, the jurisdiction of the Jenquai Hierate." Caius Hellstrom fired back, "From what we just overheard, Ken'shao, you aren't supposed to be here either. You know, you Jennies need to get your act together. It was your wing of Defenders that made my entrance possible and I thank you. But I am here on business and that mission is inviolate. Stay out of my way and you Jennies can have your frontier." "You pompous, insufferable-" the Defender commander was cut off, much to the laughter of the mining Sentinels who continued to dig for the hidden gene-thief. But it was not the Magister who had disconnected the signal. Across the sector, a ship exploded and garbled the signal connection. "Sentinels," called Magister Hellstrom, "the indigenous lifeforms have attacked the Defenders. I declare a state of alert. All craft are to return to combat readiness as you continue the search for the gene-thief and her accomplices." Across the scouring Sentinel ranks, Repulsor Fields lit up the plane of the asteroid fields as the mining beams continued to break asteroids and tractor them into cargo holds. Of course the field was much too large and numerous for the entire taskforce to take in. So, the Sentinels spaced the slagged and pulverized crystals as they removed one hiding place after another from the frontier. One asteroid exploded with the eruption of five tiny specimens of the winged creatures who attacked the Sentinels in a small swarm. The Sentinel fired with its Sparta! Mortar projectile weapons, killing two before the blast of the asteroid engulfed the ship and the young bolted the unlucky Sabine caught in their storm. The young destroyed the ship even as the Repulsor Field, flickering as the ship 'died', killed another of them. High-energy calls on frequencies off the transceiver scales bounced from every asteroid, resonating with the wails of the angelic space fauna. Like whale-song, their calls echoed off every surface in the high-end electromagnetic spectrum. * * * In a tight, line-of-sight lasercom beam, the Pakkratius called to Dot. "Dot, do you see that massive crystal asteroid out there past that point? I need you to thrust, on impulse only, to it. Do not use warp as the cone and your wake will alert the Defenders and the Sabine of your presence. Go there and hide your ship behind its refracting crystal." "What about you?" asked Dot. "You can't move or you'll be seen." "I'll be behind you after you are almost there. Trust me." "If they harm us, I will destr-" she was cut off by the Doctor. Anger in her surged. "No, Dot. No matter what happens to me, you must live. Live and get away." "But you-" protested Dot. She was beginning to think that the Pakkratius was becoming suicidal in the face of the approaching Defenders and the Sabine who were tearing the asteroid fields apart in their search for them. "But nothing. I am Progen and will answer the Call Forward if I die. Now go." Wolfsdottir was torn. This was the man who had offered to help her off the deck of Paramis Station. He had chased her across Terran space, just to talk to her. The Pakkratius had verbally complimented her abilities and attainments. He had helped her meet her biological father and held the crying Dot at Wolf's banishment. The Progen had fought Mordana with Dot in her defense by drawing the Followers' ire. She was the ex-Defender, the ex-Sev Tushnim. She had been the one to give aid unconditionally. Never before had someone given so much of themselves, their career and even their life for her. It hurt her heart to have the tables turned so sublimely. The girl tore off her black head ribbon and wrapped it about her right hand on the flight stick of her craft, the *Warchild*. Her silver-ish hair fell wildly about her shoulders in a bush of spikes. Then, winging over, Dot made for the glittering glass spire that would later be given that name. On impulse thrust and under her invisibility cloak, she left the Pakkratius. * * * "Perhaps this one is the apprentice proceeding under assumption," apologized Ariad to Grandmaster Vitaes. "How the Shinwa and the Sabine have arrived unbidden is a flaw upon the part of the Hierate." "It's too late to analyze what cannot be undone, Lady," said Vitaes. "What can we do to help Wolfsdottir and the Pakkratius?" Ariad closed her eyes in a pause for meditation. Then she smiled and opened her eyes. Taking the Shad'ha'dem Grandmaster to a cargo container and opening it, she explained to him, "This shipment was to augment our communications. Take this device to your friend, the Progen Reporter. Have him install it. He will know what to do next." Vitaes saw the device and lifted its heavy bulk. It was an antenna converter, used to translate communications signal frequencies between the various galactic communications systems. It allowed all races, Terran, Progen, and Jenquai to match signals and communicate freely. It was analogous to the ancient Earth "red phone line" between warring governments. Now, on Antares 1 Station, it was an attempt to make translatable the inscrutable garble that was the Voltoi signals. "Ascendance to the Jenquai, Grandmaster," said Ariad as she ushered Vitaes to his Explorer craft. "Antares 1 will be ready." "Contemplation and compliance, my Lady," acknowledged Vitaes as he entered the sleek vehicle, with the device in-hand. By now her voice and courage had his chromesthesia feeling a positive and vibrant feedback to his senses. Just by the colors in his vision, the Grandmaster could trust Ariad. He now had to make it alive to the Pakkratius. * * * He had waited until Dot was just outside of his own scan range, extended as it was by his devices, before spoiling the holographic disguise over his vessel. The *Culler* thrust from the planetoid Anci. As it gained momentum and speed, travelling in the direction where he had last seen the *Warchild*, the Sentinel was hailed immediately by the nearby Sabine Order. They had been mining one or two fields over and stripping away any chance of hiding among the fields. "Doctor Pakkratius of Net-7 News, you are to stand down, heave-to and prepare to be boarded," called one crimson-sailed Sentinel. "Don't make this harder on all of us, Magister Magna." But before they could lock their Gravity Link beams on the white vessel, it was out of range. Just how fast was the *Culler* at impulse speeds the pursuers wondered. The Pakkratius' ship was still accelerating deeper into the fields. It was dangerous to fly so fast in such cramped quarters of the sharp crystalline asteroids. There were calls of warnings among the orders to surrender. Then came calls to the taskforce detailing the fugitive Sentinel ship's position. Pakkratius sailed between the glittering asteroids, his white, armored plates fanning each asteroid as he flew past. Putting as many of the rocks between his craft and the Sabine Order would obscure any targeting as well as slow the hunters. Beads of sweat formed on his brow as he lent all his attention to the most acrobatic stunt flying he had done in his Sentinel-class ship. Yet, even as he dodged another spiked crystal rock, the *Culler* could no longer be termed a Sentinel-class ship, given the strange and alien infestation of weapons, shields, engines and devices from all over the galaxy and beyond its swirling boundaries. The darkness of the bridge was lit only by those empowered systems as the pilot wrenched his sails sideways to fit between two massive asteroids. Now at a full impulse speed, pouring everything but the warp drive into his weaving, Pakkratius had to dodge asteroids, but also weapons fire. Zipping past mining Sentinels, he saw them turn and fire with no time to spool up their Gravity Link beams. Crystal shattered at the ordinance that struck it. This created a cloud of glittering debris that only served to confuse scanners the more. A tail fin on the *Culler* caught an asteroid fragment that tore it off near its base. This caused a screeching sound to reverberate through the ship. Pakkratius gritted his teeth against it as he flew on. His scanners warned him of movement in the field ahead. Activating his Skirmish Omega shield again, the red hex-grid over the shield revealed the cloaked and nimble Defenders trying to cut him off. They were cloaked but revealed to Pakkratius alone. He wouldn't allow himself to come any where near him and try Dot's favorite trick, the Fold Space maneuver and shunt him where he had no control. He pulled to port and heard his sails wail in the force of the banking turn. The Defenders were not as fast as Pakkratius' devices allowed, but they were having no problems navigating the field. The lithe and sleek darts of the Shinwa were designed for such acrobatics. Ahead was the massive spectral colors of the crystal asteroid Pakkratius had sent Dot to conceal herself. As he rounded yet another crystal-rock asteroid, the Doctor could see the embedded and tiny spheres of implanted, angelic, Voltoi young in its structure. There must have been tens - no far more than that - 'eggs' in that huge asteroid. Pakkratius could not count them. The Sentinel felt sick at himself. He did the causal math. In trying to escape the Shinwa and Sentinels, he had sent Dot here. Then to catch up with her, he tried to make way here too. Now, seeing the 'nest' of the glassy, rainbow asteroid, he knew that the Sabine would rip it apart with their mining beams to get at Pakkratius and Dot. He was dooming the young Voltoi in his own preservation. This was survival, one darker half of himself told him. Pakkratius fought his own inner war as he pulled behind the Glass Point and slowed to a halt. Dot's ship was there, still cloaked. She must have been watching the entire time with her passive Telescopium device. He felt her silence meant she knew too what they had both done. His other, more humane half chided him all the more. The two sat there as the Sabine Order continued to grind down field after field in their fervent search. Being too fast for the Defenders, they too searched the sector for the renegades, but again came into contact with the Sentinels. * * * Ken'shao Joo Li had just about had enough of this incursion of the Sabine Order in Jenquai space. She may not have had the entire sector mapped, but the Sentinels were now an aggressor, stripping the fields in obvious chase for her prey. "This is Ken'shao Joo Li of the Shinwa Defenders," called the wing commander. "Sabine commander, you are to depart this space immediately!" An answer returned with the face of the most square-jawed Progen man Julie had ever seen. His grim and determined face also featured anger. "You will address me as Magister Caius Hellstrom of the Sabine Order. I already hold the Jenquai responsible for aiding, housing and hiding a gene-thief named Wolfsdottir. Surrender her or there may be consequences." It was confirmed. The Sabine were after the AWOL girl too. Julie winged over to the source of the answering signal. "The Wolfsdottir is a warchild and a citizen of the Jenquarum. You will not have her. Turn back from Jenquai space and return to Beta Hydri neutral territory or face the exacting wrath of the Shinwa!" "So be it then," called this Hellstrom. "You are hopelessly outnumbered, Defender." "You know nothing of the Shinwa then, gene hunter." The Shinwa and the Sabine began clashing across the Antares Frontier in small spurts where they found each other. One Defender was able to confound two or three of the sailed Sentinels at a time as they tried to rip apart fields of asteroids. Beam weapons and mass-driver projectiles lit up the night in each micro-theatre of battle. *They fight each other as they approach our nest.* *Bite them! They gorge on and make the night loud with their energy and plasma.* The atonals sped forward while the tonals veered off. The tonals had seen the slow progression towards the home nest where younglings were housed. *Khizz, I will cull them in hopes they will turn away.* *No, Xaxx, destroy them. Bite them all.* Defenders split the formations of the Sentinels, just as they found themselves unable to move under their increased mass. Black-brown Gravity Link beams made maneuvers insane to attempt. The Defenders countered with seemingly random Fold Space shuntings. Just as rapid in succession, the Sabine found their reactors drained by the siphoning beams of invisible ships appearing behind them. Streaks of energy and plasma were answered by heavy-element slugs coated in corrosive casings. Weapons fire exchanged. Those few, beleaguered ships that sought to make for the sidelines of the battle were set upon silently by the Deviant Voltoi. *Bite!* A lightning bolt of electromagnetic energy struck the already tired ship of a Sentinel. It's armored hull shredded even as the reactor was emptied by the electromagnetic pulse of the Voltoi's discharge. *Tear!* Another atonal, Khizz this time, let loose his lighting pulse upon one of the dart-like metal craft. Its bolt landed on the shields, but it was the EMP that overloaded the already-full reactor inside. The capacitor containment field failed and the reactor erupted in a cascade release of energy that destroyed the Defender outright. *Shred!* Xaxx's bolt caught a Sentinel ship too slow to dodge. The armored sails went in all directions as the ship broke apart. * * * Pakkratius watched with hopelessness as the fields surrounding the Glass Point were slowly chewed by the mining beams of the Sentinels. It would not be long now that their hiding place would be discovered. Dot had given up on cloaking at this point. If he was visible, then it stood to reason that she would also be close. The Doctor could have made calculations of how much longer the two had before their discovery, but he no longer wanted such details. Instead he began re-rigging his devices to fight off his own kind, the Sabine Order, to protect the girl. "Let them come," said a resigned Dot. "I'll cut their ships in two." "No, Dot," warned the Progen man. "Incapacitate them if you must, but in the end, try to escape. If that fails, pray to your Ben Joseph that the Sabine are merciful." "The Defenders will not let the Sentinels escape this system now that they have crossed the line." "From what I can see and hear over the comms, the Defenders are fighting the Sentinels to get at you themselves." The two pilots shelled their ships with Psi-Shields and Repulsor Fields and waited for the first ship to come in range. It was inevitable. The arriving Sentinels were immediately followed by the Defenders who warped in once they had the mining pattern down to this focal location. "For the Republic!" shouted the Sabine leader. "Honor to the Shinwa!" answered the female Defender commander. The two Factions were upon Glass Point. There was little hope for escape. Vishao's Gate was still blockaded by the Sabine Order. Pakkratius stared at the numerous sails of the Sabine Sentinels bearing down on them. The sleek Defenders, not to be outdone raced in as their warp signatures dissolved. There was an immediate standoff despite the pitched battles between the two Factions elsewhere in the sector. There was a pause as each side waited for the first shot to come. Arriving behind the Defenders was a single Jenquai Explorer, the *Rocinante* who over-shot the two Factions and dropped out of warp, right on top of the two who waited out their exposure. "Pakkratius!" called Vitaes from his ship, "You must make use of this device immediately!" A tractor beam pushed the device towards the white sails of the *Culler*. "She said you would know what to do next!" "Out of our way, Sha'ha'dem!" called the commander of the Shinwa. "You are already in trouble, Grandmaster Vitaes!" "Agreed," said the Sabine leader, the Hellstrom. A mining beam lit up his ship and began ripping into the huge crystalline asteroid Glass Point. More beams from the gathered wingmen Sentinels followed suit with their own mining beams. "No! You don't understan-" called Dot. She swung around the crystal and interposed her ship between the mining beams and the massive crystal. This halted the beams but exposed the girl to the spooling Gravity Link beams. She was hit several times, paralyzing her craft. Pakkratius saw all of this as he received the Jenquai device and proceeded to install it in place of another. The connectors were not compatible but still fit. He worried that when he threw power through the device that the conduits would not hold. It sat in the cradle just fine, but the connectors. They would need some form of binding to keep contact. The Doctor reached into his hip medical kit for some form of binding material and came up, surprisingly with a large roll of silvery tape. He would later remember that the Terran on Dahin planet had slipped him a roll of the 'miraculous' duct tape, a wonder of ancient Earth technology. Pakkratius frantically wrapped the conduit connections. Outside, a third fleet of ships arrived. The Sharim merchants, tenders, cargo ships, repair haulers, and other sundry craft arrived. They had followed Vitaes from Antares 1 to Glass Point. "Defenders and Sentinels," they called. "By the authority of Lady Ariad and the Sharim, you are in violation. Depart this sector immediately." Both Factions ignored the Sharim announcement. Their mission was before them and the standoff was almost broken. Pakkratius reached his pilot's chair and snatched up his flight controls. Swinging the *Culler* around to face his aft towards Antares 1 space station, he lined up for the signal. The Net-7 News equipment came online in conjunction with the Jenquai device and a special coat of Manes essence on the backside of his ship's sails. "The pen is mightier than the sword," Pakkratius said to himself. The ship became a massive comm dish. He threw all remaining power from his reactor and shields into this transmission. Outside the white Sentinel ship, a tremendous white light of coherent masercom energy shot forth from the sails. It reached across the remaining asteroid fields, heedless of their mass. Its light was blinding and all scanners were temporarily overloaded in the vicinity of the huge beam. The masercom beam contacted the relay antennae of Antares 1 and bounced again across the sector to Vishao's Gate. * * * Across the galaxy, at NET-7 SOL, Zona Mason stood before the receiver terminal for incoming transmissions out of Capella. It was late night here at the station in Saturn sector and the service hall was empty. She knew that the rat would try to make contact with Net-7 News and she felt it a greater good for the newsorp if the Progen were to die in the field. After all, weren't the Progen immortal via their medical-thingy, the Call Forward? She would be rid of him for good. All she had to do was disconnect the cables in this large box. With a breath she had the panel off and gazed over the cables, deciding which to start yanking first. Then Zona Mason felt another body behind her and gasped a silent breath as a thin *tanto* dagger touched her throat. "Don't touch that dial, viewers," whispered the ShadowWalker. He then edged Mason up and away from the receiver terminal and its cords. The ex-assassin held her against the wall at knife's edge when the masercom beam from beyond Capella made contact with NET-7 SOL and was routed through to the station, forwarded to the rest of the galaxy. The Pakkratius had the attention of all of human space. * * * The theme music jingle played as the image of Pakkratius came on every monitor in the galaxy. "Tomorrow's news today, this is the Pakkratius, brining you a special report from - you guessed it - the Antares Frontier. Tonight we have a truly epic tale for you concerning a brave little girl, your Anchor-rat and a resourceful and noble Explorer......" Dot sat there before the trained weapons of the Shinwa Defenders and the Sabine Order Sentinels targeted upon her. She listened to the Progen man on her speakers as her scanners were still recovering. The Pakkratius told of their meeting and adventures. She smiled at all the funny things she did to him and his admitted reactions. He displayed and spoke of the paths they took across the galaxy. Dot cried at the re-telling of her father, Wolf's rejection of her. With his Sabine Doctor training, the Pakkratius told how he learned of the mission to capture or kill her. The details went on as the various ships around her recovered their sensors and were forced to listen to the Reporter. The white-sailed Sentinel blew the cover off of both secret missions of the Shinwa and the Sabine, their reasons and their means. He made the galaxy aware of the secret of Antares Frontier and how it was lawfully discovered and the protectorate of the Sharim after the Sha'ha'dem. The Reporter set the stage and continued the tale. All the while, the huge white beam kept the connection from his ship to the galaxy. Through the transmission, the Pakkratius set the story straight, with all the journalistic integrity he could muster. The galaxy was listening. Everything the Reporter said, gestured and the multitude of images about his craft were visible to all watching Net-7 News. All was recorded. There was no mistaking the events surrounding the trio of 'fugitives'. Over the sector-wide communications, the Sentinel commander protested, "You arrogant little rat! I'll destroy you and your gene-map for betraying the Sabine Order!" But it was the Shinwa commander who pointed out the truly precarious situation. "Look, Progen! We are surrounded. Take your shot if you dare, but there will be consequences." Everyone looked as the story on the galactic news still continued through the voice of Magister Magna, Dr. Pakkratius. All about them in a sphere were the angelic creatures, the Voltoi. They flapped their wings and yet were motionless as their antennae registered the immense power behind the Reporter's transmission. They were listening to him. Did they understand him as well? Everyone was outnumbered by the Voltoi in Antares Frontier , here at Glass Point. *They have stopped eating the crystals. Our young are unharmed.* *But perceive that one's counsel.* The tonal pointed an antenna at the white beam creature. *I perceive it, but nothing is making sense.* *This one makes gentle gestures. The creature holds back the darts and the rock-eaters.* Khizz tried to protest, but the tonals outweighed the atonals in this web-counsel. Xaxx attempted to lend weight to Khizz's argument, but both were silenced by the distant counsel of the Ascendant Mother. *Tonals and Atonals. My children. These quiet ones are young. Leave them be for now. Their own Mother approaches to herd its young.* Khizz and the rest of the atonals heeded the Mother, but forever would they aggressively guard their food and the younglings here. All, towards the end of the counsel of the white one at the nest, began to disperse slowly. * * * Using the galactic masercom beam from Antares as a beacon, *The Implicate Order*, Magna Vinda's personal frigate, entered the Antares Frontier and signalled to all ships present. The Jenquai capital ship, *Tonatiuh Maru* arrived seconds later. Zyrith Sky watched as quietly and and invisibly as she could on the bridge of the frigate as Vinda chastised Magister Caius Hellstrom for embarrassing the Sabine Order over a little Jenquai girl in a Defender. "B-but, Magna Vinda," stuttered Hellstrom, "The girl is in possession of Progen genes." Vinda called back as her frigate's capital class guns trained on the Magister. "Magister, do you know how hard it is to steal genes from the Restorers, once they have been stored?" The leader of the Sabine Order looked over at the image of the Jenquai girl in question. With a dismissive frown, she declared, "I see no stolen Progen genes here and my scans detect none aboard her ship." Caius broke in with, "But, M-Magna Vinda, look at-." He was cut off by her raised and punctuated voice. "I SEE NO PROGEN GENES IN HER POSSESSION, MAGISTER!" Vinda bellowed. Her brow was furrowed and her face frowning at him. *She's lying of course*, said Zyrith's inner voice. *Shut the hell up,* responded Zyrith. *I know that. But what this woman says, goes.* Zyrith looked to the monitor showing the Pakkratius's ship. The transmission by now was over and all eyes were on the gargantuan Progen capital ship and her commander. Only now was the white Sentinel regenerating his reactor power from such a demand of energy. He had made his news spot. Who knew what Vinda might do to him? The declaration over the entire sector killed the claim in one sentence, any chance that the Shinwa might have a case against the Progen Republic through the Wolfsdottir. Thus the *Tonatiuh Maru* stationed itself in the Antares Frontier to funnel the remaining Shinwa Defenders from the sector and back to Swooping Eagle to report their mission failure to Du'shao Silva. The Sentinels were herded from Jenquai space as Vinda, against everything Zyrith knew of her, apologized to Ariad at Antares 1 for her Faction's mistaken actions. Ariad, in her soft-spoken voice responded, "Many have proceeded on assumption on both sides of this adventure, Magna Vinda. May the wisdom of the Ancients be further blessed upon you and yours." "Perhaps," said Vinda as her frigate made for Vishao's Gate. Her eyes too were locked on the white Sentinel still at Glass Point and forming with the Defender girl and the Grandmaster Explorer. * * * Magna Vinda stood over her subordinate crew on the bridge of her frigate and gazed intently at Magister Magna Pakkratius' white vessel. *Again, the Pakkrat Master Genome shines to brighten the galaxy. Well done, my little Pakkratius. You have shown us that through cooperation over competition humanity can step back from the brink, forgive itself of its past, put away its weapons, have a conscience both fatherly and motherly, to help re-discover itself.* *Yes, I knew of the girl, yet did nothing. It was a test you see, to see if Man were still fit to become a father to even his own enemy. You, my little lab rat, have proven worthy where monsters of the past fear to tread.* *Go back to your news, Pakkratius. For while I must make example by banishing you from the Sabine Order, I see that you will have your paws too full to serve me directly. Teach her well, that the knower and the known are one in the Implicate Order.* Zyrith Sky was ordered by Vinda to strike the Pakkratius from active duty of the Sabine Order, indefinitely. The Sentinel would be allowed to continue his work at Net-7 News and as an independent Doctor of the Call Forward in Saturn. The Reclaimer woman transmitted the verdict to him herself. Vinda then was escorted back to the Gallina system by her Sentinels. * * * Dot sent a message to her mother a week later, telling her of the adventure she had undertaken. She spoke about the new 'father' she had found aside from the Wolf in its cage. This seemed to satisfy her mother, Dr. Juna Wa, that her daughter was happy to have found herself, her purpose and a lasting occupation with the Pakkratius, the so-called Anchor-rat for Net-7 News. Dot became an intern with her new Progen 'dad' and followed him around everywhere he went. She aided the Pakkratius with reporting for the galaxy's most trusted news source. With the neutrality of NET-7 SOL as a rising galactic Faction protecting her, the Wolfsdottir never again feared another hunt. She was able to drop the desires in her to kill or destroy, having seen the beauty of the angelic Voltoi and the mercy they too showed all that day in the Antares Frontier. The black sash from the Kaojin, the Destroyers, went into the rubbish, where it belonged. Happily, Dot stood smiling behind the cameras as the Pakkratius sat down next to Anchorwoman Zona Mason for today's galactic news broadcast. Next to Dot stood the ex-assassin, ShadowWalker who gazed at the Terran woman and smiled. Zona Mason returned the smile meekly and then brightened as the cameras went live and on air. She straightened her hair rather than adjust her glasses as the theme music played. "All the news from space, this is Net-7 Saturn," announced Mason. Grandmaster Vitaes had been vindicated from the complaints of the Shinwa and given his choice of posts throughout known space. He chose the quiet and yet growing beauty of the Antares Frontier. He had told Dot to 'behave' and to follow her heart. Now, the Explorer aided the Lady Ariad at Antares 1 in making further contact with the crystal angels the Sha'ha'dem called the Voltoi. The Defender girl had learned through the ShadowWalker that the Shinwa were recalled and that a command shakeup had been ordered. Something about a spatial anomaly in Swooping Eagle, Sirius had redirected the Defenders' attentions. Dot would never hear from Ken'shao Joo Li again. On the opposite side of the galaxy, Dot had learned from an odd contact who called herself only 'Sky' that the Progen Magister Caius Hellstrom had been re-assigned to investigate a strange, nebular cloud in the Vega solar system. Like Joo Li, the Wolfsdottir never again encountered the Magister. All seemed well to Dot as she began an early career in field journalism. She wanted to escort Reporters into the field and keep them safe under the neutral press banner of NET-7 SOL. Hers was the first hug the Pakkratius received as he stepped off the set of the studio in the newscorp station.
  18. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. VIII by Pakkrat VIII. Distant as it was, the alien and dormant star gate was visible to the trio gating into Vishao's Cove. It would be a straight shot to the Ancient Gate to the Antares Frontier, thought Vitaes. He had a sick feeling, complimented by peripheral spots of gray and black in his vision, that the Shinwa pursuing them would also hold the keys to the newly discovered Ancient Gate to Antares system. He had thought that the gate could be kept under secret wraps within the Jenquai Hierate now that the Sha'ha'dem had opened the relic with the near-ascendant psionics of the First Emissary Merjan Kathrada. But now that she had sent forth her Explorers, Kathrada also put forth her apprentice Ariad to begin Sharim operations in the new solar system the Jenquai meant to claim for their own. Vitaes smiled at the thought of seeing Ariad again. She was soft spoken and kind-hearted, even if she was every bit as devoted to Jenquai ascension as her teacher Kathrada. Vitaes had earned Ariad's friendship as a Sha'ha'dem supporter to the Sharim, a newer Faction launched by the Sha'ha'dem and the Hierate. The Sha'ha'dem could not continue explorations and scour for signs of the Ancients and handle logistics and dealings with the other two races, the Terrans and Progen. Thus the Sharim had been founded. Less xenophobic of the Terrans and the suddenly peaceful Progen, the Sharim went about the task of doing business with those races in the act of recovering any relics that might point the First Emissary towards contact with the Ancients. Vitaes, though he had trouble fully seeking such ascendency for himself, had sought the friendship of Ariad and gave her aid, supplies, mined ores, and scientific readings whenever he could. Her soft spoken voice never triggered his chromesthesia and she was kind in return. He remembered when the Sharim cargo vessels and Seekers arrived in Antares solar system and named the first sector they arrived the Antares Frontier. It was on the heels of its discovery by the opening of Vishao's Gate by Merjan Kathrada. He had been there. Again he prayed that that beautiful song, sung vocally and psionically by the First Emissary and then transmitted to the dormant gate, was still the proprietary property of the Sha'ha'dem and the Sharim. Had its secrets been leaked to the Shinwa? Then Vishao's Gate loomed over them as the trio arrived. "Amazing," declared the Pakkratius aloud. "Wow," was all Wolfsdottir would say. "What you are about to see beyond is the claimed territory of the Sha'ha'dem, the Sharim and the Jenquai Hierate," said Vitaes to the other two. "I could get into some hot water if this got out to the galaxy prematurely." The Grandmaster then began the song, vocal and psionic, over his ship's transmitters to 'sing' open the Ancient Vishao's Gate. The eight U-shaped and green emitters, once stacked upon each other in dormant sleep, answered with a voice so alien and over too many voices to make out, then separated in sweeping arcs as they spun over each other. When they arrived at their final positions, twin beams of blue light from each structure reached to the center of their array and a bulbous wormhole was created with sparking plasma at its edges. Vitaes, in the lead of the formation, thrust forward and took the comrades with him into the gate and across depths of interstellar space to the Antares Frontier. As the other two were dumbfounded, Vitaes spoke, "And you, young one would see this 'illusion' destroyed?" There was no answer from the girl, but he expected none yet. * * * The Mivrei drones were artificial intelligences in service to the Jenquai and as such Ken'shao Joo Li had access to their doings, comings and goings. They were tasked in the defense of Vishao's Gate and it was through them she learned the song of Vishao's Gate. With that same song recorded by the Mivrei drones, she was able hours later to take her force to Antares. "Destroy the Progen with them," she had ordered. "Arrest the Grandmaster and capture the Wolfsdottir per the mission. Do not deviate from it. Honor to the Shinwa!" "Honor to the Shinwa!" answered her wing of Defenders. Again, a small group was station at Vishao's Gate to the Antares Frontier to keep the proprietary claim of the Jenquai safely in Jenquai hands. After the main group of Defenders had entered the Ancient Gate, the stationed, rear-guard group was summarily overrun with the Sabine Sentinels who refused to take no for an answer. Thus it was that the secret of the Jenquai frontier was discovered by the Progen. But it would be some time later before that report would be handed to the Progen Republic. The Progen had overheard the song from having chased the Shinwa, their engines aglow from maximum warp to have gated into Vishao's Cover in time to record the secret song with their scanners. It would take some time however for Hellstrom to re-calibrate his transmitters to the song as the Sabine Order had no personnel with psionics. In that time, his task force incapacitated the small garrison of Defenders. It was numbers over a few warriors. The Shinwa obviously were still unaware they too were being followed. This new frontier would be some valuable news to add to his report when Hellstrom returned with the gene-thief, Wolfsdottir, dead or alive. * * * She had seen her co-worker, in is own act of sabotage, here at NET-7 SOL pulling cords to the receiver dishes on the station's tower. Back then, the Pakkratius had been attempting to squelch the reception of transmissions from Aragoth system. Now though, Zona Mason had found the receiver for the dish that was pointed to Capella. All she had to do now, so long as nobody spotted her, was to open the panel and yank the same connected lines that the Sentinel had done to the Aragoth receiver. Then the rat could die a pest's death and Net-7 News could be blissfully ignorant to the loss of the so-called Anchor-rat. Soon, she thought to herself. Tonight, if this service hall was empty of all but her. Adjusting her glasses, Zona Mason, Anchorwoman for Net-7 News, continued on to another of her appointments in the studio. Thus she missed the emerging, black leather-clad assassin step from the service hall into the main hall towards the newscorp's speakeasy bar. ShadowWalker quietly eased his way through the crews and into the bar. With a pen and some swiped napkins, the Jenquai man scribbled a black marker message quickly as he continued up the ramp to the upper floor to the offices of NET-7 SOL. Just outside the Doctor's domicile and office door, ShadowWalker used a slim stiletto knife to nail the napkin to the entry: YOU OWE ME, PAKK. -SW * * * She had wanted to stay in Endriago. Sentinel Zyrith had hoped to keep far away from the Pakkratius, even as she hoped the Sabine Reporter came through this debacle. However, just as she was to see Magna Vinda off in her frigate, the leader of the Sabine Order had grabbed her by the arm and dragged her along. A protest on her tongue, Zyrith was forced at Vinda's insistence to board her frigate flagship, *The Implicate Order*. Onboard the frigate, Zyrith watched from the bridge, seemingly nailed to the spot as her inner voice counseled her. *This woman will be the death of us.* *I know,* answered Zyrith to herself. *But I can't let direct disobedience get stamped on my record as well as the brawl with the Centuriata too.* *That wasn't your fault.* *But, I couldn't just up and announce that I have Sabura genes as to why I was able to best three of the drunkard Warriors, could I?* *No, that would have gotten us reclaimed.* *Yes, so shut up and let me think of a way to get out from underneath Vinda.* * * * Pakkratius marvelled at the new territory named the Antares Frontier. Blues, and indigo swirled together and parted as if they were mated for a time and then went their separate ways. Behind him and the formation, Vishao's Gate was closing in the distance. Stars twinkled between the cloud of asteroids mainly crystalline in nature. Here and there, more of the angelic Voltoi were seen gliding between fields, seemingly ignoring the three ships traversing the sector. Vitaes, in the lead position of the formation called, "Make for that large planetoid we have named Anci, my friends, while I try to contact Ariad, leader of the Sharim at Antares 1." "You Jenquai already have a station here?" asked Pakkratius. "It is still under construction and sorely in need of materials," answered the Grandmaster, "but yes there is a station in addition to various observation outposts. We Sha'ha'dem are studying the Voltoi as the Sharim set up facilities. There is much to learn here on the Antares Frontier." Pakkratius noted the huge, stark planetoid that the Grandmaster had indicated on the sector navigation map. He and Dot broke formation and glided to starboard in its direction. "Keep Anci between you and Vishao's Gate while I converse with Ariad." "Is she going to help us?" "I hope so." Vitaes' Explorer craft shot in warp towards the distant space station that flickered with the flashes of construction and component fittings. The Sabine Sentinel and the ex-Shinwa girl swung about the dark side of the planetoid. There, Pakkratius initiated another subtle trick of the Sentinel-class vessel. By shutting down all but his most vital systems, the Doctor initiated the holographic projectors that were used in the fear-inducing daemonic imagery that had scared off the Outlings. But instead of fear, the images fell over his white ship and swirled about it. The Sabine ship looked like a destroyed wreck, a derelict with blast marks, destroyed systems and ripped open structures. It was as if Pakkratius' ship were faking incapacitation. "With all these winged creatures about," explained Pakkratius to Dot, "it stands to reason that I was destroyed by them. You cloak your ship, girl and stay very quiet." Dot slowed to a halt and engaged her cloaking. With her invisibility, the 'destroyed' Sentinel and the huge planetoid between them and Vishao's Gate, Pakkratius prayed to Vita Theodora and Artemis Jericho that they would be missed by any pursuit. They sat there in space as various flights of the space fauna flew by them, some pointing an inquisitive antenna at them then continuing on to other fields of crystalline asteroids. * * * Vitaes pulled into the near-complete hangar of Antares 1, the only station that could house vessels of any size. The hangar was the only human-safe area and he exited his craft as soon has it halted in a berth. Walking down the blue carpeted platform, the Grandmaster beheld Sharim leader Ariad. She was resplendent in the most fashionable trends, Ariad. Vitaes found his friend beautiful as he approached. "Salutations, Grandmaster Vitaes," greeted Ariad as she brushed aside her blonde hair and pinned it with a brad. "Lady Ariad," bowed Vitaes, "I am sent by the First Emissary in dire need of aid from the Sharim. "Merjan most-wise," came Ariad's soft voice to which Vitaes was familiar, "has contacted this one already, Grandmaster. Rest now as none can pass Vishao's Gate without the song of the Ancients." "The Progen hunt us just as the Shinwa seek us-" Vitae's tried to explain further before he was gently cut off by a wave of her hand. "All will come to fullness, Grandmaster Vitaes," said Ariad calmly. Normally Vitaes was able to puzzle out Ariad's flighty speech, but this time her confidence stumped and trumped him. He looked to the hangar entryway. He hoped that Ariad was right, that all was going to turn out peacefully. * * * Joo Li's Defender wing entered Antares Frontier in shock. Here, beyond the Ancient Vishao's Gate, the Ken'shao beheld a secret under wraps. Her ire for the Sha'ha'dem and its infant, the Sharim rose. The two Factions had hidden the discovery from the Shinwa. Instead, they had made use of the Mivrei Drones and entrusted Jenquai security on this Antares Frontier to them. This was a slap in the face to Julie and she intended to get answers after this mission was concluded. "Spread out and find the fugitives," the Ken'shao ordered. Ship elements broke off from the wing and took different paths to the nearest nav bouys. It had been a long time since Julie had need to explore a sector. It would be slow but this sector would be mapped by the Shinwa and Du'shao Silva would confront the secretive Sha'ha'dem and the Sharim. They had much to answer to the Shinwa. Defenders went about the slow task of plotting the positions of pre-existing nav bouys that the Explorers had already laid. They saw the huge planetoids and the many glittering crystalline asteroids that bejeweled the sector of space. * * * It was not long after that the Sabine penetrated Vishao's Cove in wonder and determination to discover this new solar system of Antares, starting with this sector. Their warp drives still aglow from dogging the Shinwa from behind, the Sentinel taskforce, led by Caius Hellstrom, began exploring. "Let nothing stand in the way of the Progen Republic," declared the Magister. "The Jenquai were here first it seems. Let us see if they can hold it, but remain on mission!" Salutes and acknowledgements were returned. Soon, the massive superstructure of the Jenquai station under construction came into scan range. Hellstrom flew his Sentinel towards the station when a signal from the construction site hailed him. "I am Lady Ariad of the Sharim," came the melodic voice of a lithe and sleek woman on Hellstrom's comm screen. "You are trespassing in Jenquarum territory. Please abandon assumption and declare an identity now." From another approach angle, came another female voice that was biting and stern, "I am Ken'shao Joo Li of the Shinwa and this sector is now under Defender protectorate! You have much to answer, Lady Ariad. I advise you to grant all Defenders present clearance for docking immdiately." Hellstrom was about to answer with his own call, but decided to listen to the exchange as his Sentinels continued to spread through the new sector. "As your enlightened senses can attest, Ken'shao," explained Ariad, "this station Antares 1 is still being constructed. There are too many builders, supply ships and EVA crews active at this moment in time. I am unable to grant your request." "I was not making a request!" said this Joo Li of the Defenders. "Nevertheless there is no room for your craft. Please redirect your ire to the Jenquarum at Kailaasa at once as you are trespassing here." "We are on a mission and fugitives from the Hierate are here, in this sector." Ariad answered, "There have been no unwelcome visitors to the Antares Frontier, until your craft arrived, Ken'shao. I am sorry, but you and those behind you must divert and return to Jenquai space." "Like hell," cut in this Defender commander. Hellstrom agreed with the Defender woman, but he wasn't going to ask for permission. The gene-thief was here. Perhaps this Ariad was aiding them somehow. That was enough for the Magister to justify his taskforce's presence. He called to his ships, "Check the planetoids. There may be hollowed space or mining bases like those of the Red Dragon use. Leave no asteroid un-plumbed." Shinwa Defenders were spreading out through the sector as Sabine Sentinels began turning to the asteroids in their search. * * * *The infra-red-to-red ones eat asteroids while the darts speak in deadly beams.* *They eat of our fields but do not digest what they consume.* *Ravagers!* called one of the angelic beings in the web-counsel. *No. The first ones only watched us. The first ones tried to contact us with their very soft and almost inaudible counsel. Yet have we to understand them.* *Look how they eat of our fields. They strip and gorge! Thieves!* Another of the atonal, Xixx, in the web-counsel cut in, *They approach our birthplace. Will this counsel allow its consumption?* From far across the sector came another atonal, *Khizz! They attack us when we only hail them! They throw energy-metal and corrosives at us! They burn us!* The first atonal, Khizz returned the alarm, *Bite them with our sting!* The tonals countered, *We must protect our young, but do not let this be war.* But the atonals had already left the web-counsel. Thus the schism between the Voltoi and their Deviants, (as they were named by the Sharim later) began. All was recorded by the Sharim at the various observation posts in the Antares Frontier.
  19. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. VII by Pakkrat VII. Wolfsdottir emerged from the sector gate first. A loud *THUMP* was heard as a hexagonal ring of the InfinitGate clipped her vessel. The girl immediately checked her diagnostics for damage. She sighed when the console merely noted that the shields had absorbed the collision and that no damage to her actual ship had occurred. She scanned the immediate vicinity just as the Grandmaster Vitaes appeared. A gate harmonic screamed and resonated through the Explorer's ship as two of the hexagonal rings rubbed together with screeching effect to its field harmonics. Over the group communications, Dot could see Vitaes cover his ears with his hands and fall out of his pilot's chair. "Vitaes!" she exclaimed with worry. Had he been hit too? She wheeled her Defender craft and focused her ship sensors on the *Rocinante*. The Explorer-class vessel was unharmed, yet something had thrown the Grandmaster about his chair. The viewscreen soon showed Vitaes climbing back into his seat. "I'll be okay. No worries." "What happened? I think this InfinitiGate is glitching somehow." "Since when has InfinitiCorp made anything that lasts?" asked Vitaes who was still rubbing his temples and waving away something before him that only he could see. Just then the white sails of the Sentinel ship appeared. There were crackling bolts of energy playing over the main hull of the Pakkratius' ship, *Culler*. "What the-?" said the surprised Sentinel. His comm image showed the Sabine getting up from his cockpit chair to move to someplace aft. "Crap. All my Devices have come un-hitched and offline. Give me a moment." The bolts of electricity soon dissipated and were gone. "I think this stargate has seen better days, Progen," said Vitaes. As the Pakkratius worked on his ship and Vitaes recovered from his seemingly headache, Wolfsdottir used her Telescopium device to scan deeper into Kitara's Veil. It was a sector of Capella's asteroid belt that rumor held was home to independent belter miners, freelancers, and worse. There were sightings and reports that had come down the ranks that Kitara's Veil was one of the paths that the Followers of Mordane had taken when they began their exile from Jenquai space. It was also a mining source for the illegal asteroid substance called *mordanite*. The Followers of Mordane had discovered the green, pyroclastic and porous mineral and learned how it had upon settling from melt to absorb and hold psionic energies that were volatile, unstable and otherwise dangerous in the presence of the psionic-talented. Yet the Mordane made use of the substance as a booster to their mental powers against the warning of the Jenquai Hierate. The Sha'ha'dem had decried that the substance was not fully tested and declared it a crutch to those who could not naturally approach their ideal 'ascendance'. Thus, with the shunning verdict from the Hierate, the Mordana immediately suspected the Jenquai of covering up the truth and immediately started using the mineral to tremendous effect. Though by the time the Mordana were calling mordanite the Way, they had already been excommunicated and exiled to the deep reaches. Reports from deep probes had returned to show mining operations of the green mineral. The Mordana were continuing to use the psi-enhancing properties of the exotic substance. Dot, just for a moment, wondered what mordanite would do to her if she had been one of the Mordana. But then she discarded the notion. She was never one to put strange and untested things in her body. Likewise, she was put off by the invasion of machine nanobots or cybernetics that infested the Progen. They were little different in Wolfsdottir's eyes. How the Pakkratius kept his humanity, she could only guess. Who knew exactly what the Republic put its clone society through? "There. Got 'em all in place again." "I am ready as well," answered Vitaes to the Pakkratius' announcement. "I don't think those were glitches any longer," said Wolfsdottir who was still scanning the sector. She had locked onto one target with her extended scanners. "Sabotage?" asked Vitaes. He began to extend his scanners as well in the same direction as the Defender's attention. "Not directly," said the Pakkratius who had scanned the sector stargate. "There are no blasts or energy scoring on the rings and the InfinitiCorp gate turret is still active." In answer to both, Wolfsdottir covered her ship with her systems-enhanced Psionic shield. "Mordana." * * * Now that she knew that the renegade trio had taken the one-way path into Capella system, Ken'shao Joo Li knew that there was only one way back towards civilized space. They were headed for the frontier with only the depths of space before them. She had them trapped against the unknown or to surrender to her. With this knowledge, Julie recalled her arrayed wing from all the other solar systems of human space to converge upon Capella. Defender ships had spent all 'night' returning to Sirius and its quadrifons of gates. Then with a small garrison of ships rear-guarding the system gate to Capella, she lead her wing into Capella, the home system of the Jenquai. She was the vanguard of the Defenders. She meant to be the first to lock sensors on the girl's ship, the *Warchild*. The Defenders left behind to cut off escape of the renegades were stationed and arrayed around the stargate to Capella. Facing inward to the InfinitGate's closed, hexagonal rings, the guardians were caught by surprise an hour later when the entire fleet of Sabine Order Sentinels arrived in Swooping Eagle sector en masse. Like a red plague of sharp, armored sails the fleet shouldered their way past the protesting Jenquai. Their calls were met with static as the Progen explorers muscled their way past the few Shinwa. Without orders to prevent entry, the Jenquai were forced to step aside as the Sabine Order entered Capella by force of sheer numbers, heavy shielding, and their brutal and active Repulsor Fields. * * * Magister Caius Hellstorm had had enough of chasing and being merciful. He would *reclaim* the Wolfsdottir, derelict that accomplice Explorer, and personally destroy the gene-map of the traitorous Magister Magna Pakkratius, the meddling Net-7 News Reporter. He dared the stationed Shinwa Defenders at the quadrifons to Capella to deny his taskforce entry to Yokan. Once fully through the gate into Capella, Hellstrom ordered his fleet to make use of anything they had to boost the warp speed of their ships as they raced across Yokan sector. Something was telling him that he was not the only one chasing this girl he intended to deliver to Magna Vinda. And that thought enraged the Reclaimer. "All Sabine," announced the Magister across his fleet of Sentinels. "You see the renegades, you take the shot. Don't wait for them to surrender. We're after stolen genes, not people. This is the sacred duty and First Charge of the Sabine Order! The Progen are superior humans and mean to stay that way. Gene-thieves will not get away with this." As one, his fleet of ships answered, "For the Republic!" * * * "I see them, I see them," called Pakkratius. He had just finished switching his load-out of devices in the *Culler*. "Then hunt well, Progen!" wished Vitaes verbally as his Explorer vanished under its own cloaking. Wolfsdottir had already entered a deadly space combat with the first Mordana to advance upon the trio as they made way along the sector's navs. The dark and sleek Mordana ships had spotted their hated enemy, the Shinwa, in the form of Wolfsdottir's Defender. The jihad was still aflame in their hearts. Without warning or call, the exiles engaged while Pakkratius, who to the Followers was just a wandering Progen, hated yes, but not nearly so much as the Shinwa girl. They obviously did not care if she was an AWOL, renegade ex-Shinwa. It was a dance of appearances and disappearances. Cloakings and appearances made up the Jenquai combat. Jenquai in race, the Mordana used their own psionics to do unleash terrible beams upon Wolfsdottir and the assisting Vitaes. Pakkratius fell upon the Mordana from behind as the Followers focused on their hated targets. His Repulsor Field came online as he opened up with his alien weaponry gleaned from his far-reaching travels. Though he was no Centuriata Warrior, lacking their many weapon mounts, the Sentinel unleashed the terrors of his career's collection of devices and shields. The Skirmish Omega shield revealed the entire battle to the otherwise Sentinel while boosting the impact kinetic energy of his mass-driving projectile weapons. Impact cartridges spat stream after stream of slugs at the Mordana. On the starboard wing of his craft, ammunition laden with deadly corrosive chemical packs fell like a waterfall upon his targets. Device after device tore into the defenses of the enemies, even as alien technologies boosted his own Sabine deflections and offensive focus. He paralyzed craft after craft with his Gravity Link beam to keep their attentions. He would protect the girl from their onslaught if he could. Though he was the only continually visible target, Pakkratius was the most stalwart of the ships, given the strange, alien, prototype, and Ancient devices he brought to bear. Inside his white vessel, the Doctor smiled in the darkness of his cockpit-bridge. With the occasional light show from streaking beams to point out his next target, Pakkratius ripped into ship after ship. Grandmaster Vitaes, the most pragmatic of the three, to Pakkratius' thinking at least, finished off each of the Sabine Doctor's targets. The Sentinel was trying to attract the attentions of the Mordana, in hopes of pulling them off their hated Shinwa target. The Explorer, with deadly precision and seemingly never-ending energy reserves, darted about laying finishing blows to the Mordana. He never gave the enemies a second to begin to wheel upon the *Rocinante*. Appearing and disappearing was Wolfsdottir. She was not without her tricks. Coming out of cloaking, her beam weapons also fed the fires of combat. Any Mordana that was able to wheel about to bring its terrible beams to bear on her found themselves instantly out of range to use them. The girl had used her psionics, focused through her ship, to Fold Space about the enemy and shunt them safely away from her. Then she would disappear again like an assassin. The trio were not immune to punishment. And Pakkratius was no stranger to taking his lumps. The Doctor had, as he traversed this side of the sector's battle, managed to make fast exchanges between his reactor to his shields and then later from his shields to his reactor. It was a balancing act that was cheered on by his ship's hungry and arcane devices. The spray of his weaponry was continuous as he made changes in his load-out throughout the battle. This was an internal dance of his own for which the Sentinel was familiar. While other classes of ships chose their systems and then entered battle, the Sentinel-class vessel was a dynamic salad bar of what would sup on his reactors available power at any given moment. Despite that, Pakkratius remained efficient, even as his shield warned him. "Shield matrix at twenty-five percent." "This is pointless," called Vitaes. "Make for the Vishao's Cove gate!" "No argument there," answered Pakkratius. "They must be destroyed," declared Wolfsdottir as she appeared before an exploding Mordana craft. "We don't have time," called Vitaes. "The Shinwa will arrive soon behind us. Let them settle the score. We are not here for glory!" "Gate now, girl!" ordered Pakkratius. "Victory another day. There is no ego in this battle. Move!" The ex-Defender frowned and then reached the gate to transmit the 'singing' signal to the next stargate's answer by opening its wormhole. Pakkratius took a hit to his ship's hull just as he too gave the enable to enter the gate to Vishao's Cove. Despite the best efforts of his advanced shielding, the shot penetrated and slammed into the *Culler's* armor. His ship skated sideways into the wormhole of the gate. The two were followed silently by Vitaes a second later. He alone was unscathed in the battle with the Mordana. * * * The Shinwa Defender wing encountered the swarming Mordana hours later. Though the excitement had died down, the arrival of even more Shinwa to engage brought new fireworks to Kitara's Veil sector. The Mordana were blockading the sector gate to Vishao's Cove, which was unacceptable to Ken'shao Joo Li upon arrival. The renewed rivalry and hatred took little to spark. The Followers were already dosing their bodies full of refined mordanite. The Shinwa were itching for action in hopes of a complete mission. Though this encounter was not on mission, all got more than they wished for. Battle language erupted from both sides as the largest engagement between the Shinwa Defenders of the Jenquai Hierate and the exiled Followers of Mordane Kathrada, the Mordana began. There was no love lost as the two sides engaged to the death. While the exiles had nothing better to do than try to slay as many Defenders as they could, Julie reminded herself to stay on mission to capture the renegade Wolfsdottir. But the costs were mounting. While engaging the Mordana, the Ken'shao kept funnelling as many of her wing through the sector gate to Vishao's Cove as the portal would allow. The renewed battle was almost a hidden one. Cloaking and un-cloaking ships fired on the visible. Ships were shunted through Fold Space usage repeatedly. To the untrained or non-Jenquai eye, the battle looked little better than chaos. Psi-Shielded ships were globes of mental energy trying to engage the heavier warships of the Mordana. Though the Defenders were sleek and faster, built on individual pilot needs and preference, the Mordana were using ships a decade older and built for war. One was unpredictable in load-outs and the other was more heavily armed as if the Gate War had never ended. The battle continued as each side tried to make use of its strengths and take advantage of what they knew of the opposing force. Just when the Defenders thought they might have he upper hand and the majority of their craft through the gate into Vishao's Cove, the Followers brought a capital ship to bear. This was Julie's sign to slip by the swarming and angry Mordana. "Let InfinitiCorp repair their gates," called Ken'shao Joo Li. "All in! All in! Leave the Mordana angry. This is not our mission! Stop fighting them!" Some of the Shinwa of her wing were prolonging the engagement, reluctant to make a tactical retreat to the next sector of space. The opportunity for glory in battle was threatening her mission. There were casualties, derelict vessels, shattered ships, and dead pilots on both sides. * * * It was a deserted battlefield by the time the Sabine Order taskforce entered Kitara's Veil hours later. Though the Mordana took notice of the hated Progen of the Gate War, they had no heart to engage the sailed, red vessels. Caius Hellstrom plowed through the hulks, derelicts and wreckage as his fleet crossed Kitara's Veil on its way to Vishao's Cove. He had learned through his own channels. Magister Hellstrom knew that there was infighting in the Jenquai Hierate, but this theatre of conflict confirmed it. As they crossed the battlefield spread across several nav-bouys, he scanned for the traitor Pakkratius' ship, the meddling Explorer's craft, and the hunted red vehicle of the Wolfsdottir. When the scans came up negative, the Sabine Order pushed onward to Vishao's Cove. *He knew from his own experience they would try this. The ex-assassin crouched in the rafters above the studio where technicians, Reporters, interviewees, and producers gathered in one fashion or another. The Jenquai man watched as they went about their tasks or being directed to sets where the media station could get each visitor's take on galactic events.* *One Terran woman caught his attention and he focused all his psionics upon her to passively listen in on her.* *"All I am saying is that we've had him on the Anchor team for months with not much to show for it and now he's listed as a renegade of his own Sabine Order and a traitor to the Progen Republic. How can we as an objective newscorp shelter and employ such a wanted individual?"* *The dark-clad assassin frowned. This Zona Mason was trying to pull the plug on the Pakkratius and while he was away and had no say in his defense.* *"What?!" asked a fervent Magna Vinda to her subordinate.* *"Yes, ma'am," confirmed Sabine Sentinel Zyrith. "Magister Magna Pakkratius was not made aware of the secret mission that was transmitted in your name."* *"I gave no such order!" yelled Vinda. "Call Arx Spartoi. Tell them to ready my frigate and prepare for departure and get me a shuttle to orbit. Now!"* **She's partially lying,** came the inner voice that rode just behind her left shoulder. **She knows about all of this and is passively playing the table against each other before showing her hand.** *Zyrith, ran to Porvenir Mons sat-comm and put forth Magna Vinda's orders. She kept quiet in her inner revelation. What she alone knew could get her, a Reclaimer, reclaimed.*
  20. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. VI by Pakkrat VI. Caius Hellstrom, immediately following the chase encounter with Wolfsdottir, Magister Magna Pakkratius and the yet-unnamed Jenquai Explorer accomplice, dispatched elements of Sentinel ships to each of the known wormhole wefts. These locations were the most stable artificial wormhole arrival points in human space. Having seen his prey disappear before his eyes thanks to the hated Jenquai psionics melded with their strange technology, Hellstrom decided to dedicate some of his assets to cover each weft until Sabine Order property was recovered. There was no SolSec restriction to staking out each of the wefts and he dared anyone to protest. There was only one weft left he had trouble sending craft to cover, Maeldun's Weft over the Jenquai homeworld, Kailaasa. It was there that the Magister focused the attention of his remaining forces. The chase was on and Caius knew that the odds were good that the trio of wanted culprits would seek egress as far from the Progen-dominated sectors. With a Jenquai Explorer in the lead, the Magister was betting on Jenquai space. He would chase the three to the frontier to complete his mission if it called for such. This was his mission, his moment to shine before Magna Vinda. No Jenquai Explorer would be match enough for the Sabine Order Sentinels. The brazen of the trio to defy a Sentinel checkpoint in Altair III, then the escape from Detention Center Onorom under the ignorant Centuriata, was enough to make Hellstrom sick with anger. He wanted the head of Wolfsdottir and the treasonous Magister Magna Pakkratius. He would lay the Doctor's head on the hangar deck of NET-7 SOL, the Saturn space station for newscorp to warn them never to become involved in Sabine business again. Finally, Hellstrom meant to write a report to deny the future Call Forward of Pakkratius' genome. Loyalty to the Republic must make example of this renegade Sentinel. * * * Joo Li meditated en route through Beta Hydri solar system, through the Sirius quadrifons gates to Capella. Her emotions had come loose and she meant to gather them under control. Her plan had been flawless and would have worked in minutes as the Folding Chain shunted the AWOL Wolfsdottir back to Jenquai Space. Now this would take more direct and forceful action. The girl's ship would have to be incapacitated and her emergency life support pod tractor beamed from the ship. Meditation complete, Julie had her goal adjusted and her means planned. The Sha'ha'dem and the white Sentinel helping Wolfsdottir would require incapacitation swift and sweet. The Ken'shao now knew that the Sabine Order would soon begin to penetrate Jenquai space. She also was being denied her own wormhole service by the Sha'ha'dem, who publicly wanted nothing to do with this affair despite the involvement of one of their own. Grandmaster Vitaes, she now learned his identity, was behaving on his own recognizance or so they claimed. The Explorers had denied, wisely, docking privileges at Paren Station over Kailaasa. Though the Sabine Order were chasing Wolfsdottir, they must have had different reasons for wanting her. Julie had to guess that they were trying to prevent the Shinwa Defenders from seeking war reparations and potentially regaining the loyalty of the exiled Mordana. Such reunion of Shinwa and the dangerous Followers of Mordane would tip the balance of military might in human space. She decided that the Progen feared such a new gathering of Jenquai might. No longer would the Progen be able to strut around Jenquai stations with such bravado. No, they would be the ones to walk on eggshells and carefully about the Jenquai. Even the Terrans would kow-tow to do business with the combined technologies of the reunited Jenquai. Who knows? Maybe even the Cenovar Warlock Engineers and Artificers might return from their self exile. Julie felt she might be the one to make this happen with this one mission's completion. Entering Yokan sector, Ken'shao Joo Li took the safeties off her Defender craft's weapons. * * * Though they had lost precious lead from the forces chasing them, Pakkratius was grateful for the chance to rest and put down the stressors of the previous days. He could see the reasons for such a hunt coming from the Sabine Order and from the Shinwa Defenders. Each had something to gain or recover. It was the First Charge of the Sabine Order and the nature of the Reclaimers to recover the genetic materials belonging to the Progen Republic. With such a strange and yet humane meld of Progen and Jenquai genes, there was much to be learned from gleaning this new genome from Wolfsdottir. It would only cost her her life. The Shinwa would bring the warchild to SolSec courts and again pressure the Progen Republic to pay war reparations, perhaps even more than that if they recovered Wolfsdottir alive. If the Defenders knew what the Sabine would do to the girl in the Call Forward, they would scream murder of one of their own. She would create such sensation that even the Terrans might become involved. It was the story of the year and yet Pakkratius felt it wrong to transmit to even his employers at Net-7 News. This was personal, personal to the girl, personal to those immediately involved. Careers were on the line. Reputations of those hunting the companions were being tested. Factions were competing for the cutting edge in this affair. To put this in the public eye seemed only to feed the hungers of all. With the denial of docking at Paren Station, the Sentinel now knew that there were those who would want nothing of this situation to taint their own public relations. Perhaps it was wise then of the Sha'ha'dem to stay aloof, even with one of their own in jeopardy. Keeping some Factions out of this was the first smart move in this adventure. If the Centuriata had become involved, it could pit Warriors against Defenders over a little girl. The Terrans would be laughing all the way to the bank as sides bristled again for more war. These thoughts weighted heavily on Pakkratius as the trio left Tokai Saikatsu Station on Dahin Planet the next morning. Following the lead of Grandmaster Vitaes into orbit above the fiery mining world, they took a path across the sector without taking the usual spacelanes navigation bouys. The Sentinel noted that freewarping, flying in a straight line to a sector stargate instead of using nav-paths, was a technique that his younger clone brother had used to avoid detection on his adventure. But with the advanced sensors of the Jenquai technology, Pakkratius had little confidence in the techniques in stealthily crossing the sector undetected. The Grandmaster took them in an odd zig-zag route across the sector. It crossed the sector by passing near to the planetoid moon Hau. "Look!," said Dot who was in formation with the other two. But she was gazing out her starboard side viewport. Using her Telescopium device she magnified the image and shared her scanner range with the others. "It's beautiful!" Pakkratius looked at the connected monitor as his ship was furthest away in the formation. It was the most massive specimen of space fauna he'd ever beheld. It had large, luminous wings and glowed from every surface a white light. It was a translucent to transparent creature with two curving antennae. Completely white and greater in size than a capital ship, Pakkratius could see that the life form was gliding about in a massive field of crystalline asteroids. Occasionally the creature would stop and consume a small portion of the crystal and break it into smaller parts as it 'chewed'. Through out the massive form, bolts of electricity flowed from head to fanned tail, wingtip across to wingtip. The Sentinel supposed that the flow of such massive electromagnetics might be analogous to human blood. The huge abdomen of the creature was distended and the companions could see that this creature was expecting offspring. Being that the angelic creature was transparent yet solid as crystal, tiny and encapsulated versions of smaller, similar creatures rode inside. "It's a she," said Wolfsdottir. Vitaes answered with an Explorer's objectivity, "The Sha'ha'dem call them 'voltoi' and this specimen is the largest we have encountered. They are beings that we are beginning to suspect of some limited sentience. They communicate with their electrical bolts to each other and seem to have some semblance of family groups. When they grow to a certain size, they leave for other parts of the system." "Has anyone ever made successful contact with them?" asked Pakkratius. "All attempts so far have garnered only high-yield static," explained the Grandmaster. "Their communications are on waveforms on exponential powers beyond our transceivers can give or receive. Thus we get very intense garbled transmissions that are yet translated. And even then they show no pattern to syntax or structure." Even at warp speeds, the group was able to see the white 'mother' for some time as they passed it and the planetoid moon Hau. "It would be such a shame if such a magnificent mother Voltoi be *destroyed*," Vitaes suggested more to the entranced Wolfsdottir. Pakkratius noted that Vitaes stressed that last word at the girl. Was he trying to guide the girl from the Kaojin ideology? The Sabine smiled quietly in his vessel. The trio stopped to let their ships' reactors recharge as freewarping was hard on many power plants. Soon though, they were underway, again by direct free warp, to the sector stargate to Kitara's Veil.
  21. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. V by Pakkrat V. Wolfsdottir sat in her cockpit listening to the joking banter happening between Vitaes and the Pakkratius as the three waited out the gravity beams effect. The Explorer was snickering amusedly as the Sentinel she was growing to like recalled that he could see the wing of Defenders all along and that by playing dumb, the Shinwa had held off their advancement. If the approaching Defenders had kept coming just a little more instead of welcoming the trio of escapees into their clutches, Vitaes' might not have had time to charge up his ship's jump field. "Aha!" said Vitaes with a snicker. "Pakkratius' you have never seen my fastest wormhole jumps. But you may be right in this instance. It was the Gravity Link beams that merely startled me. You had said they were out of range. It just startled me, is all." The two continued to speculate the angered reactions of the Shinwa and the Sabine. The Sentinels had now known of a Jenquai Explorer helping Wolfsdottir and the renegade Net-7 Reporter. However the news must not have reached the Shinwa who were in waiting. Wolfsdottir listened and waited for a while. These two men were destroying their careers in helping her. For what, she asked herself. There was no way she could repay the Pakkratius and now Vitaes for their aid. Like her, they had shunned their greater societies, the Jenquai Hierate and the Progen Republic for a little girl in a Defender. At this consideration, she was torn between their humorous attitudes and the sorrow of her father's rejection. Wolf had broken her heart and pushed her further to the destructive urges that the Kaojin had opened to her. And yet, these two men, these ragamuffins laughed and smiled even as their careers were in jeopardy. She smiled a little as she cleared her eyes of her earlier tears. The trio had been left by the green haze of the wormhole effect in the space above the rich and lush home planet of Kailaasa. It was the new home of the Sha'ha'dem and the Jenquai Hierate. In the distance in orbit above the planet was Paren Station. They fell into formation and made for the docking bay as the gravity effect of the previous encounter wore off. * * * Vitaes contacted the station first. "Paren Station, this is Grandmaster Vit-." "Grandmaster who?" answered the station tower. "Your signal is breaking up. Grandmaster, Paren station is on lockdown. There have been reports from the Shinwa that a Sha'ha'dem Explorer has gone renegade and is threatening the peace between the Jenquai and the Progen. We cannot allow any new dockings at this time. Vitaes was about to scold the tower when he felt something, someone intrude into his conscious mind. *Grandmaster Vitaes.* *First Emissary Kathrada*, replied Vitaes mentally. She must have been looking out an observation deck at his ship to make such powerful and direct contact. He could feel her identity merely by the potency of her psionic contact with him. No other Jenquai was so strong so as to make contact with him through his own mental defenses. Colors swirled his vision as his chromesthsia triggered under her psionic weight. The First Emissary Merjan Kathrada was the Hierate's elected and appointed leader of both the Sha'ha'dem and the Jenquai people and culture. It was rumored that she was funding the race's reach for the Ancients that may have been responsible for the Ancient Gate that sparked the Second Succession War or more angrily termed the Gate War. This woman had lived through so much history. Vitaes could only guess at Kathrada's true age. She was the mother of Mordane Kathrada, the late leader of the Followers of Mordane or more recently termed the Mordana. This woman knew the loss of her offspring and the need to remain loyal to her people over her son. It had been Kathrada who had recalled Mordane's pre-Shinwa fleets from above Mars. Her son had the planet locked in his sights and was ready to destroy the Progen homeworld when the recall came from her. But the war had ended hours before by the Progen themselves. The recall drove a wedge between mother and son and he had departed for the depths of space, vowing to return in fire of jihad. And now this powerful, wizened woman was contacting Vitae's with her immense psionics. *My lady.* *Grandmaster, Paren Station and the Sha'ha'dem cannot raise the ire of the Shinwa again even ten years after the departure of the Mordane. Take the refugee deep into hiding along our frontier until the diplomats can reach parley.* Vitaes answered cautiously, *I feel the workings of the Kaojin in her, First Emissary. And now the girl comes in contact with her destructive roots in the Progen Dog Soliders. What is to be done?* *Patience and serenity, Grandmaster,* answered Merjan. *Take them to the new lands. I foresee the Progen man will play some part there. Perhaps Ariad, my protegee may aid you there.* *Compliance amid contemplation, First Emissary,* answered Vitaes. He was not the biggest devotee of the ways of the Sha'ha'dem given his synesthesia difficulties in the lessons and disciplines. But when the mother of the Sha'ha'dem takes pause to contact him, he listened. He had never before had such intimate consult with the First Emissary. *Enlightenment of the Ancients, Grandmaster Vitaes.* "Friends, let us depart. The Sha'ha'dem are not our allies in this sordid affair," announced Vitaes to his companions. The public rejection was lessening thanks to the telepathic contact sending from *her*. "I know where we can go. Follow." He plotted a new course for Dahin sector. The two would need rest at the very least. A meal. Then the skies would call again. Minutes after the departure of the Explorer, the rogue Defender, and the Reporter, Maeldun's Weft and Paren Station were swarmed with Shinwa Defenders from Ken'shao Joo Li's personal wing. And there were strong words and heated psionic-sent emotions. Yet, Paren Station yielded up the transmission recordings that lent nothing to Sha'ha'dem involvement with the hunt for Wolfsdottir. Defenders were repositioned across Kailaasa to garrison should the rogue return. * * * Magister Magna Pakkratius had never before been denied docking at Paren Station, so long as he, a Progen, kept to the more public areas of the facility. As the formation of the two Jenquai and himself raced across Dahin sector to the fiery mining planet, he remembered the various tasks he had undertaken for the Jenquai Hierate, more specifically the Sha'ha'dem and the Sharim. Though it was only a little more than ten years after the end of the Gate War, the Jenquai xenophobia was still eroding slowly. Only the Sharim, an offspring of the Sha'ha'dem and a delegation of the recovery of Ancient artifacts, Jenquai diaspora relics, and the daunting task of preserving Jenquai technology while maintaining trade with other races, had shown him any consistant welcome. Pakkratius had helped bring supplies from other ports to newer Jenquai stations such as the new Ishuan and Menorb centers. Castor solar system was just coming online as the home of the Sharim. Though he found it hard to understand the religious jargon of the likes of Merjan Kathrada and Ariad, but he had done what they asked each time. His help had come, but not in the name of the Sabine Order and race relations. At the time, Pakkratius had come to aid as a representative of Net-7 News, back when he was a mere field Reporter. He could only hope now as Vitaes led the way through Jenquai space of the Capella solar system that the Explorer had some insight. The Sentinel also recalled that his younger clone brother had recently been forced into contact and to trust a Jenquai in his own adventure. Was this a trend to become more common, asked the Reporter inside Pakkratius. In an amused side thought, he searched the common thread from the two adventures in that he and his clone brother were turning out to be magnets for these troubled times. Was his genome to blame? Or could there be something far deeper that was triggering such galactic turmoil? Pakkratius recalled that instead of firing upon the cloaked Shinwa before him and exposing their position of breaching the gravity well security of Detention Center Onorom; he had merely halted their progress without breaking their invisibility. He remembered his hand on the trigger to fire all four of his ship's weapons. He had known that a few derelict Shinwa were to be expected in this Crystal Age. He could have destroyed that lead Defender that was bearing down on them, such was the power of his strange array of weapons and devices. It would have been easy to open up and catch their lead by surprise. He had stayed his hand. Rather than fire weapons, the Sentinel and Reporter chose his Gravity Link beam and merely paralyze the vanguard's approach. After Vitaes' wormhole effect, Pakkratius had been shunted across the galaxy, finding it funny that showing mercy was far more humorous than to begin a shooting war with the Shinwa. Mercy was far more entertaining than the thrill of victory in this case. What was happening to his humanity? These thoughts haunted in the back of his mind as the Sentinel followed in formation the others into re-entry pattern over the Jenquai-GETCo mining operation of Dahin planet. The Terrans had signed a joint-operations contract with the Jenquai Hierate, more specifically with the Sha'ha'dem to be allowed to help extract valuable ores from the mysterious lava planet. But from inside the Sha'ha'dem, the Sharim were to search for rumored Ancient artifacts while GETCo set up operations. The Sharim were all to happy to do business with the Terrans and yet hunt for any signs of Ancients in this half of the Capella solar system. Yokan and Kailaasa had already checked out by the time of the signing. Pakkratius looked out over the lavascape of the planet's surface. Though not as tumultuous as Endriago Planet back in Progen space, Dahin Planet was still dangerous with its indigenous life. It was also rumored among Jenquai that the self-exiled Cenovar Warlock Engineers had gotten to Dahin first while the Jenquai Hierate was still recovering from the Gate War aftermath. The skies were clear today over Tokai Saikatsu Station, a facility that was a merger of Jenquai architecture with Terran systems and personnel of the Good Earth Trading Company. The Sentinel would look out of place here but he cared little as the trio entered final approach to the hangar. He decided to be the Reporter over a Progen from a race of obedient clones. Structure had its place. Here was time to be social and approachable. Terrans swarmed Tokai Saikatsu around the clock. To them and to Pakkratius' eyes, this was about money. What was that old Terran addage? "Time is money." Thus the Reporter watched everything with a journalistic eye as work continued with the mining operations on Dahin Planet. Jenquai were here and there, managing the flow of ores and the inflow of credits. Economy wore on relentlessly even as the Hierate was trying to take it slowly and scientifically. It was a gentle battle to harvest only what was needed versus the desire to strip the planet as fast as possible. The bazaar in the station was in constant operations as was the lounge. Spacers, haulers, miners, geologists and philosopher-scientists all made their home here. Out here on the expansion edge of Capella, many others were hawking their political agendas for various Factions across human space. It was here that the Hierate was forced to endure the ideologies of other races and sub-sects on the fringes and in the backdrop of this frontier...."boom-town" was the ancient Earth term for it. Most Terrans just rolled their eyes and went about their business. The fewer Jenquai aboard the station would argue points for a while, but then lose interest in various arguments. "Ah, son," announced one Terran man who was ragged and wearing a haphazard flightsuit. "Learn th' magic of duct tape and how it can be th' agent that hold yer rig togeth'r." Pakkratius had become separated from his companions by this strange man. The Reporter in him noted the strange apparel and pitch. This Terran did not seem to be an employee of GETCo. Perhaps he was lost. "I don't understand," answered the Sentinel trying to cut around the Terran. "Duct tape, Progen, the most fab'lous creation to keep tha' which musn't move bolt' down. Now if you could just look at this here recipe, you can see that this might look low tech-..." Pakkratius took in the images on schematics printed on white, crinkled paper. Paper? The Sentinel stepped around the odd man, "Excuse me." With his attention on trying to spot his friends, the Sabine did not hear the man nor feel that something was thrust into his pack at his Doctor's utility belt. "There. Fer yer trouble, Progen." But the Reporter was then beyond the man and paying attention to him. The Terran's voice was swallowed soon by the lobby's hustle and bustle. "Tell 'em Zacharias Garret sent ya with tha' dere 'xample!" But Pakkratius was trying to catch up to Vitaes and Wolfsdottir, who seemingly melted and weaved with ease through the lobby and into the lounge. One blink of his eyes and even Wolfsdottir seemed to disappear in the crowd only to appear closer to the door. This must have been one hell of a shift change, thought the Reporter. Eventually, Pakkratius caught up to the two, smaller Jenquai who were already making meal orders at the bar of the lounge. Though his entry was noted by the throngs of Terrans, more than one of the very few Jenquai there frowned at the appearance of a Progen. It seemed to the Sentinel that frontiersmen still had a ways to go before the decade-old wounds would heal. As Pakkratius began to insert his green DataIdent cube to pay for his meal, he noted that while one Jenquai male had frowned at his entry, he was folding his arms and giving worse response to the silver-white-haired Wolfsdottir sitting down at a table with a meal across from Vitaes. Even without psionics as a Progen, the Reporter could sense the angry posturing and whispers to those around him coming off the incensed Jenquai. Why would the Jenquai have worse reactions to each other than the odd Progen entering the bar? Pakkratius sat down with his meal with Vitaes and the girl. He knew that this could be a recipe for more trouble. "Don't look him in the eyes, Progen," cautioned Vitaes, who was seeing the inquiry in the Reporter's eyes. "I look where I like and collect all I can sense," volleyed Pakkratius. "He is Daniel Malhause, a member of the Mordana," informed Vitaes. "The excommunicated," added Wolfsdottir. She knew more than Pakkratius, he thought. "Even you cannot stand against the might of a single Follower of Mordane, Progen," again warned Vitaes. "Their lifestyle has become one of jihad and they had the lion's share of the Jenquai military fleets when they left the Hierate in shame. Do not approach them. They are anathema to true Jenquai. They seek to draw more to their vengeful and bitter cause." "They should be destroyed outright," said Wolfsdottir deadpan. Both Pakkratius and Vitaes looked at the girl. Though the Reporter could read his interviewees as he talked with them, he doubted he had such sensitivity as the Grandmaster next to him. "Why, young 'Kaojin'?" asked Vitaes. "They are still Jenquai, our people. Their mindset is what is in exile. The Hierate might allow them to return if only-" "They should be destroyed outright," repeated the girl. "Enough," interjected the Sabine Pakkratius. "We're here only as a waypoint, right Vitaes? Let's not make more enemies. We have already angered the Sabine Order and the Shinwa Defenders. These Followers are only recruiting here. Let's follow Vitaes outta here." The trio ate their meal under the distant and brooding gaze from the Mordana recruiter across the lounge in silence and stayed in a shared and rented apartment that night. Their cover story told the GETCo station that they were a research team with a student intern passing through the sector. Pakkratius tossed and turned under the Jenquai architecture and furniture as he tried to sleep. He was wracked by dreams of being chased by Reclaimers calling for his gene-map. Their sailed ships were backlit by a bright white electrical storm heralding their chase from behind. The Progen reporter bolted to sit upright in the tiny Jenquai bed when the stormbolt struck him in the bridge of his ship *Culler* and ripped through his chest. Breathing hard, he stumbled to the privy and gazed into the mirror. He peered at his reflection. Perhaps he should have not become involved. Maybe he should have just stayed objectively removed from this story-turned-adventure. Returning to the Bed of Torture, Pakkratius spotted the girl who was sound asleep. She had kicked off her thermal sheet and was curled, uncomfortably uncovered. It banished the regrets for the Progen who then draped Dot with the cover. He watched her silently as a Doctor's vigil as she became more comfortable in sleep. She was why he had undertaken this ordeal. He still had no clue how he would wriggle from this social and political fiasco over a little girl. The Sentinel returned to bed quietly with silent prayers to Vita Theodora, the Progen Mother in Spirit, that things would turn out okay.
  22. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. IV by Pakkrat IV. Joo Li, now pretty much accepting the 'Julie' nickname by her wing of Defenders passed uncomfortably too close to a squadron of Sabine Sentinels. The sailed, red explorers were passing the time mining nearby asteroids and gas clouds. With all their communications in an ease, it seemed like the Sabine were waiting patiently but easily distracted by the resources of Asteroid Belt Gamma. Julie's wing had crossed the stargate from Saturn sector on a rumor that there might be some activity coming from the wefts in Jupiter sector and Asteroid Belt Beta. Knowing that an AWOL Defender would most likely avoid Jupiter, the ancestral home of the Jenquai, the Ken'shao chose to investigate Helios' Weft when she spotted the squadron of Sentinels. As she passed the first field of mining Sabine, Julie saw the next field on her scanners. It too was occupied by more of the explorers. Then the third field repeated the first two. The Shinwa commander had never seen such a concentrated presence of Sabine Order in one sector. Always before, the Sabine had worked in groups of threes or sixes in one sector to sweep fully the resources in efficiency. But these three groups of miners appeared to not be aggressively harvesting as usual. They were taking their time with the asteroids and gas clouds. The low-to-middling ores and gasses should have been short work to the Sabine Order. It was then that Julie realized that they were hiding in plain sight. They wanted to appear to be mining in earnest, but were truly sitting there, observing the spacelanes. In parallel to the Shinwa tactic of dropping a cloaked Defender every third or fourth nav in a sector, the Sabine were monitoring in force by appearing to be on just another mining operation. If the Sabine Order was monitoring by hiding in plain sight then there must be some alert they were observing. She flew onward casually as she could. The Ken'shao thought about pulling up and communicating with the mining Sentinels then probing their thoughts with her psionics. But then, that might tip her hand in her search for Wolfsdottir. The sight of Detention Center Onorom off in the distance also discouraged her. The rumored brutality upon the penal station's inmates was a night terror to the ear. Thus, Julie flew onward and planted cloaked Defenders well away from the space station's 'wall'. Turning with the rounding navs, the Shinwa commander made for the next sector's stargate. * * * Dr. Pakkratius had never before lied to a fellow Progen so successfully before today. As the Warden escorted the trio through the station to the cell blocks, the Sabine continued to expound layer upon layer of bullshit. "Well, the girl has a term paper on Gate War history and the Explorer here wants to clear the air about the nasty rumors over Detention Center Onorom before returning to his people. Such interest naturally says 'scoop' to me as a Reporter for Net-7 News in that we are not forgetting our history lessons." The banter with Warden Orphant was not very vocal but he listened as the Sentinel continued to explain their presence. In the end, the Warden bought the story, much to Pakkratius' hidden surprise, and he admitted the Reporter, the student, and the socialite. Further into the prison station the group walked. Past many wards, checkpoints and cells they went as the hum of the station's power plant continued to backdrop the occasional vocal outburst of a prisoner or two. Minutes into the prison and the group arrived at the cell that Wolfsdottir had input into the prison registry. Pakkratius held Vitaes back a way behind the girl to let her approach the cell door alone. Warden Orphant was many paces away at the last checkpoint. The Net-7 News Reporter watched as the Jenquai went slowly to the door. He could see nervousness in her step and gait as she peered in and spoke. * * * The cell was dimly lit but well enough that Wolfsdottir could see into it easily. A Progen man lay on a slab of metal. The steel door had only a viewport wide enough to slide a tray of food inside. She could see the man sleeping. Wanting to wake him gently, she spoke gently, "Soldier Wolf. Soldier Wolf, please wake up." The Progen stirred and sat up with a start only to look around. Then he saw the girl at the door peeking in. He answered her, "No slder no more. Go away." The girl took note of the clipped inflection of the man's speech. "Wolf, please," Wolfsdottir asked. "I want to speak to you." "Dead Prgen in a meat lockr, I," he said. "I am Wolfsdottir," said the girl. She had spoken the name slowly enough that it could have been heard as "Wolf's daughter". "No girl o'mine. Wolf have no pups." "My mother said a Progen Dog Sold-" The Progen stood up and growled at the girl in the window. His slightly elongated canine teeth were bared. There was a feral look in his eyes at her. "Jenny, git from here!" Wolfsdottir held her tongue for a moment and closed her eyes. She tried a different inflection and vernacular to her voice. "Reck'n you me pa, Wolf. Ma says so. You ken?" It was a slang used more than ten years ago and taught to her by her mother for this very day. It seemed to have an effect on the Progen man in the cell. He answered with growing curiosity in his voice. "You. Girl of the Jen. You ma died in dat Gate War. Saw to it. None live from Dog Sldrs. The packs." "Ma said you done did her and you wuz called away tho she near dead," said Wolfsdottir. She was getting through to the warrior. She wanted more as her eyes threatened to show emotion before this feral man. "She were dead. I knowd it." "Ma said she was part psi and doin' wytch stuff to stay 'live." "Jenny wytch! Jenny wytch! Jenny wytch!" The Progen man stomped about his cell. Then he seemed to come back to the present in his fury. "She lived. One of a few who did. Had me, she did." "Lucky! Lucky I wuz called offa her. Not my fault she lived." He looked at her closely, slowly approaching. Wolfsdottir's hand slid down to one of her twin knife sheaths only to discover that her weapons had been checked at the first checkpoint. She could only hope the cell door would hold. In order not to show fear, she stood at the door resolutely. "Tell me, lil one," said the Progen man. "Do you feel it? The urge? To kill?" He was looking directly into her eyes, his feral and aged eyes burrowing into her through the view port. Wolfsdottir's voice dropped to a whisper so the others, paces away, could not hear. "Yes. Every day," said Wolfsdottir, returning to present-day speech. She remembered the call of the Kaojin and their nihilistic mindset. How similar yet so distant were the two tendencies, Kaojin, the Destroyers and the Dog Soldier program. The Progen prisoner stopped before the viewport. He nodded, "I can see now. You got the hung'r, do ya? Maybe you are mine. But you not my pack. No pack no more. Go. You not find your Alpha here. Go. Kill, lil one. No Alpha here. Your sire be dead with no Call Forwd. Go." She could not stop the tears in her eyes from coming. Her shoulders sagged in defeat. This Progen man may have fathered her, but he was too far gone to be anything remotely a father. And she had wanted to meet a father, her father. This Progen was her progenitor but never meant to be one. Wolfsdottir felt she was a fluke now. Turning from the cell, she stepped lightly to the others. Her ideal image of a father was crushed by the reality of the man she had just met. It was the Pakkratius who caught her from collapsing when she got to them. He gathered her up as she sobbed in a fetal position, crying all the way from the prison. "Jenny wytch! Jenny wytch! Jenny wytch!" called Dog Soldier Wolf from his cell to the entire block. The calls were answered from various cells in the ward. "There there," said the Pakkratius. He carried her all the way to the station hangar, shushing her gently as he could. Past checkpoints they went. * * * Ken'shao Julie spotted the trio first as her vessel's devices were top-of-the-line and expanded its scan range from far outside the artificial gravity well 'walls' of Detention Center Onorom. At the same time, the horde of mining Sentinels turned as one to converge upon the accelerator gate. The Ken'shao knew they would admit the Sentinels but not the Shinwa. It confirmed to her that they too were searching for the target, Wolfsdottir the AWOL Defender. It was up to her and the Shinwa to penetrate the gravity wells and intercept the trio of ships the hard way. The Sentinels' signals were blaring to each other, orders not to let the Jenquai Defender escape. There were orders to arrest the white Sentinel's pilot. And orders to shut down the Jenquai Explorer ship were given. Julie took all this in as her wing of Defenders quietly and under cloaking penetrate the defenses stealthily. She meant to catch the escaping trio as the Sabine were still funnelling their numbers through the accelerator gate. A few minutes later of slowly traversing the warp-interdiction gravity wells, Julie and her squadron emerged just as she wanted. The Sentinel ships were already calling for the target vessels to heave to and prepare for boarding. The Explorer *Rocinante* was out front followed by the *Warchild*, Wolfsdottir's ship, then was followed by the white-sailed *Culler*. How simple-minded a name for a Progen exploration vessel. Julie would have expected such a moniker from the Centuriata Warriors, but not from a gene-hunting Sabine Order. She sniffed at the brazen white ship. Julie could at least predict the load-outs of the Explorer and the wanted Defender. It was still confusing why a Sentinel was escorting Wolfsdottir when it as clear that the entire Sabine Order was also gunning for her. It was this Sentinel that was an unknown. Julie decided to analyze the white ship. In just two seconds the battle computer was warning her off. It was armed in classes that were nearly off the scale. What was that Progen using? Shields rating were beyond her normal expectations. The weapons were all different and some were alien. Since they had undocked from the prison, this Sentinel was surrounded by that backbiting and hated globe of retribution, the Repulsor Field. And curses upon him for extending two more fields around the Explorer and the Defender. This truly tied this white Sentinel as an accomplice of the rogue Wolfsdottir. Just who was this Progen? There came more calls from the Sentinels. This time they seemingly were orders to that last ship. "Magister Magna Pakkratius, in the name of Magna Vinda, you are to power down and heave-to. Acknowledge!" The transmitting Progen was a swarthy and bulky male, cut to genetic cloning precision to Julie's eyes. "Do you read, Pakkratius? I said stand down. This is Magister Caius Hellstrom. Power down immediately." The trio showed no signs of slowing as they flew onward, out the rear of the prison station. They were coming straight for Julie's wing. Julie gave silent orders via hand signals out the viewport of her cockpit to her immediate wingman. The hand sign was passed on and on and through the entire wing. The plan was simple. The entire wing of Defenders were stretched out over the sector, cloaked and waiting for the order to snatch the *Warchild*. Each would fold the space about the rogue Wolfsdottir, shunting her towards the next waiting Defender craft. The process would continue to shove the girl's vessel across the sector to the sector gate to Saturn. It was a timed and focused maneuver that the Ken'shao had practiced only a handful of times. It required that each did their job successfully in turn. The rogue only had to come a little closer within her own range. Gravity wells, gravity beams, interdictor and the like could not stop the folding of space. Just a little closer.... Then her ship rocked to a halt when a black and brown beam struck her ship. It stretched back all the way to the white Sentinel ship, the Pakkratius that Hellstrom had named. Her engines were paralyzed to move a vessel whose mass was too great. It meant that he had seen her, possibly all along! Julie pounded her fists on her cockpit dashboard as the known next event occurred. She too was helpless before the mastery of the Sha'ha'dem Explorers. The *Rocinante*, faster than Julie had ever seen before, had been powering up his jump field to open a wormhole thus escaping with the rogue and the accomplice Sentinel from the 'walls' of the prison's compound space. Even as the green mists shrouded the three ships, more black and brown gravity-mass beams struck them from behind. The rust-red Sabine had already opened up with their capture beams. These too were helpless to the galactic wormhole that swallowed the three ships. Anger swelled within Julie, but it was this Hellstrom that cursed aloud over the communications. He chastised his subordinates. Such was his fury that Julie was calmed. She hand-signaled a general retreat from the area, through the gravity wells. Julie would have words with the Sha'ha'dem. She imagined that the Pakkratius was also going to be held accountable to the trio's escape by this new Sabine commander who was now her rival in capturing Wolfsdottir.
  23. Wolf's Daughter - Ch. III by Pakkrat III. Never before had Vitaes suffered such strict traffic control in Progen space. With permission of local Republic authorities, the Jenquai Grandmaster Explorer had merely been studying the gravitic and mineral relationship between Kastor and Altair here in Altair III sector. The two planetary bodies were slowly tearing each other apart with their gravity and proximity. As they danced a mutual destruction, a good portion of their masses were strewn over much of the sector in the form of asteroids. Vitaes had come here to catalogue the two planets' interaction as well as survey the fields of asteroids for mineral potential. It had never been much of an interest to the Collegia Forgemasters, the Progen arm of manufacturing and trade for the Republic. As the two planets demolished each other, Vitaes scanned field after field of mineral-rich asteroids. The Jenquai Explorer wondered why the Forgemasters never contacted the Sabine Order to come and take advantage of this developing resource. As he studied the slow, inexorable destruction, it came to him to catalogue the minerals and gasses in order to alert his Jenquai contacts in the Sharim, the trade Faction of the less-xenophobic Jenquai. If the Progen had yet to realize the value of these doomed planets, perhaps the Sharim could seek to purchase mining rights in this sector. His troubles began as he finished his survey and was to return home the way he had journeyed. Vitaes had rounded the circumference nav-path that avoided the chaotic debris fields of Kastor and Altair Planet. Ahead lay a streaming line of Collegia trade transports, Arx Emporos supply ships, merchants, and even a few Privateers. All were backed up in a long wait and patient log jam for clearance to pass the system gate to Gallina. With his advanced scanning and survey systems, Vitaes could detect that a Progen checkpoint had been set up just outside gating range of his only exit from Altair III to the Gallina system. Obedient to traffic and customs laws concerning Progen space, Vitaes pulled gingerly into the line and began a contemplation for patience, his means of dealing with bureaucracy, especially that of the Progen Republic. Though Vitaes had been educated and trained by the Jenquai Sha'ha'dem, the scientific-philosophers, he had quietly and politely slipped from the spiritual and religious indoctrination of the Hierate. Often, when his teachers had taken classes into more esoteric subjects frequently assisted with music or other sound-based aids, Vitaes would become distracted. It was his chromesthesia, or seeing sound and music as colorful lights with various intensities and hues, that distracted him from the indoctrination. On a medical excuse, the Novice would slip from the class and devote his attention to drink, women, or other interesting subjects at the university. With four sciences masteries, the Explorer had shocked his instructors at his graduation ceremony when he announced his departure from the Hierate, though he stressed his loyalty to the Jenquarum as a whole. As a new Grandmaster, it was assumed that Vitaes might enjoy his new title in the Sha'ha'dem, but the unknown of the frontier had already called to him. Now, Vitae's vessel, the *Rocinante*, was parked in a holding pattern as the long line of vessels were scanned and given egress from the Sabine Order checkpoint. His turn would not come any time soon. In his contemplation ritual, the Explorer barely cared that he was no longer the last in line. A formation of two vessels pulled up behind his craft. "Ben Joseph's blood," Vitaes half-swore irreverently as he found that his ship was now committed to the traffic ahead. He had thought to turn around and find berth at Arx Emporos for a while so this traffic could clear out. Gazing curiously at his rear view monitor, the Explorer saw the huge sail fans of another Sabine Sentinel being led by a Jenquai Defender of all craft. Surprised at the pairing and curious that the white-hulled Sentinel did not bypass the waiting line, Vitaes took a closer look at the odd couple. At first he mistakenly misjudged the genders of the pilots in each craft. With the Defender's black hull with blood red fins and nose cone, Vitaes thought the pilot of that craft was probably male. And then with the glossy white sails and sharp wing fins, the Explorer too guessed the Sentinel pilot to be female. Even the names of the craft behind him were ambiguous. "Culler" and "Warchild" swayed him that perhaps both of the craft were piloted by men, perhaps friends in a formation. But when, out of further curiosity, Vitaes scanned the two vessels, he came up with a male pilot of the Sentinel and a young female at the helm of the Defender. It was quite a strange combination of ships and their pilots, thought Vitaes. But it was the huge "N7 News" decal painted on the wings of the white Sentinel that brought familiarity to the contemplating Grandmaster. His better sense about the Progen race warned Vitaes not to make contact. It was more Sabine Order Sentinels that were holding up traffic ahead at the checkpoint. It could have been the xenophobic indoctrination that the Sha'ha'dem had spoon-fed him. However, seeing the familiar logo that was accompanied by the Net-7 News theme that caught and held the attention of the Explorer. This Sentinel had to be the anchor for Net-7 News, Magister Magna Pakkratius, scientist, journalist and Doctor of genetics and the debatable Progen Call Forward. Vitaes had seen many of the newscorp's station-based broadcasts. Many times he had downloaded a program from a nearby Net-7 beacon. Net-7 anchors Zona Mason and the Dr. Pakkratius would be there to keep humanity abreast of every corner of explored space. The Jenquai Grandmaster especially liked any pieces on scientific breakthroughs, new horizons of explored frontier and space weather to be avoided. While the Pakkratius would interview locals and study trends in space phenomena, it was evident that his co-anchor Mason showed him up with her stories of governments, politics, high society, entertainment and the like. Any Novice, to Vitae's eyes, could see the competitiveness the two reporters brought to the news-desk. In this, the Jenquai Explorer could appreciate, just a little, the Progen race for trying to show more social than martial tendencies. Thus, on a whim, the Grandmaster hailed the formation behind him. The "Culler" answered him but the Jenquai Defender did not. Strange, thought Vitaes. With a vid-comm feed, Vitaes was answered with, "Net-7 News, this is a Anchorman Pakkratius." Such formal greeting but his voice had a tinge of eagerness to listen to anyone as traffic crawled forward toward the system stargate to Gallina. "Um, Greetings Magister Magna," said Vitaes. "I am Grandmaster Vitaes. How fare you today?'' The Magister Magna's face betrayed him before he spoke, "Well, for a first time as your galactic anchor, I am trying to keep a story *from* becoming breaking news." His hand gesture and his facial expression lent more to his nervous body language. Vitaes read his mind with his telepathic psionics. Thankfully, this Progen Sentinel's mind was not fully clouded with cybernetic machines and enhancements. His emotions were loud even as he tried to be polite and friendly as the face of Net-7 News. The Grandmaster registered impatient fear and nervousness, concern for the Jenquai Defender next to him, and a desire to be hidden. Something was wrong about it all. Why would a Progen be protectively concerned about a Shinwa? With no vid-comm and no answer from the fellow Jenquai, Vitaes reached out to the craft. He was met with a feral desire to destroy the Sentinels at the checkpoint ahead. Anger, there was anger. This was perplexing. A fearful Progen concerned for an unbalanced and dangerously angry Jenquai. Normally the the scale would find more balance in such a rare and strange pairing. "Is...everything alright, Magister Magna?" asked Vitaes hoping to pry up some more responses to get to the truth of this pair behind him. From far ahead in the line of ships came a locally transmitted signal from the Sentinel ships at the checkpoint. "You, Jenquai!" called a Progen Sentinel, his ship turning to face Vitaes' direction. "Me?" answered the Grandmaster. "No, not you," corrected the Sabine. "The one behind you." Vitaes looked again at the formation behind him. The *Culler* and the *Warchild* were already reverse thrusting, their vector thrust-panes steering them away from the waiting line. "Time to go," said the image of the Pakkratius who looked to his side at the Defender next to him. "I'm trying," answered a female voice, her image appearing on the Explorer's vid-comm screen. She had wild, silvery-white hair with light bluish tips that matched the crystal blue of her eyes. The Jenquai was young, almost too young. She wore a red top that exposed her neck and shoulders with a loose platinum collar about her neck over it. As the Jenquai girl barked at the Pakkratius, "Your ship turns like a pregnant Nagifar, Progen," Vitaes could see and hear her mind. She was on the run from the Sabine Order even though one of their number was right next to her. And she wanted to fight first and leave after. It was battle-lust. Vitaes had seen it before in the hearts of the the now-excommunicated Mordana some years ago. "In the name of the Sabine Order and the Progen Republic, I, Magister Caius Hellstrom arrest the Jenquai Wolfsdottir!" announced the lead Sentinel ship with flame coloration and copper sails. His vessel was on a power buildup and Vitaes could feel the confidence exuding off the leader, this Hellstrom. "Move move!" called the Pakkratius. "You move move, you old Progen!" answered the Jenquai girl named Wolfsdottir by the Magister. Her voice had an immature and improper inflection of a Jenquai that no longer called the Jenquarum home. The two ships winged over and began to charge up warp cones facing back toward the planets Kastor and Altair. But before they could take off, multiple loud and brown-black beams struck the paired formation. Their report was a dissonant chord as its energies played over the hulls of the white Sentinel and the red-black Defender. Vitaes' mastery of physics and his scanners read the paralytic news. The pair had been caught in temporary gravity fields, their movement halted, warp denied, and their impulse drives severely hampered. They were caught in a Progen weapon of a slow death, the Gravity Link beams sported by Sentinels and the fearsome Warriors. Any caught by such a beam were helpless before the chain-guns of the Progen Republic. But worse for Vitaes personally was the sound the Gravity Link beams had made. Indigo spots and bands of blue wavered before his eyes. The atonal noise made by the capture beams had triggered his chromesthesia. He gripped his temples in an attempt to ignore the sounds. If it could be termed such, it was a painful muddling of consciousness to the Jenquai Explorer. Why ever did the Progen have to be so off-key?! "Good," said the girl Wolfsdottir. "A good Dance of Destruction." Vitaes could hear over the vid-comm as the Defender's computer began to charge up a Psionic Shield, a defensive shell over and above the normal shield matrix all spacecraft had to adopt in this dangerous galaxy. At least the *whirrr* of her psi-shield was tonal and had semblance of a key. However it was like mixing ice cream dessert with hydraulic fluid and taking it all in the ears to Vitaes' senses. The *Warchild's* plasma and energy beams lit up as they activated for combat. The Explorer's sensor lock on the Sentinel also registered the lock and load of some pretty frightening ammunition in some of the strangest projectile launchers yet seen. At the readying of weapons, (and Vitaes abhorred violence), the Grandmaster could see the closing Sentinel ships emit bubble fields of their own. It was widely known and seen, the Repulsor Fields of the Sabine Order Sentinels. Any strike upon those retributive fields would repel a fraction of incoming damage back at their source. If the anchorman and the girl fired now they would bring further harm to themselves in addition to the weaponry of the Sentinels trying to capture her. This was to say nothing of the political and criminal ramifications that resisting arrest in Progen space would bring them. "This is not good," said the Pakkratius who most likely knew best the signature fields of the incoming ships. His own Repulsor Field lit up over the *Culler*. "Bring it!" called the girl called Wolfsdottir. "No!" protested the Reporter. Vitaes could hear the journalistic neutrality that conflicted with his membership in the Sabine Order in his voice. No doubt that even though he had the most frightening weaponry in the area, the Pakkratius was trying to remain cool since their vessels were paralyzed by the repeated and renewed Gravity Link beams. A moment of irritated clarity struck Vitaes. Amidst his colorful reaction to the dis-harmonic beams, the vibratory emanations of the many Repulsor Fields and the Defender's Psionic Shield, the Explorer snapped to action. And it worked like magic. Vitaes opened an invitation to the two captured vessels via a tight lasercom beam. "Care to escape this noise?" he called verbally as his computer requested a navigation and helm linking with the *Culler* and the *Warchild*. Via his psionics, the Grandmaster input into the mind of the Net-7 Reporter the desire to accept the computer's request and escape. With the Pakkratius' fight-or-flight reactions demanding action, the acceptance returned to Vitaes. Wolfsdottir's acceptance came next as the group formed and nav computers locked. They had reflexively accepted a group invitation without care or checking who it was the pair were grouping. Amidst the calls to stand down, power down and prepare for boarding, the chromesthetic reactions, and the emotional emanations from all parties, the Sha'ha'dem Grandmaster saved all from approaching bloodshed. With a piercing ache attempting to destroy his concentration, Vitaes reached over and pressed a button on his ships cockpit console. It was a green button, almost welcoming him home. "Where to, people?" he asked as his reactor awaited his command. Power in his Jenquai vessel was routed to the jump field that now emanated outwards from the hull. "Anywhere but here," answered the Pakkratius desperately. "Helios' Weft!" called Wolfsdottir, though she said it reluctantly. Vitaes, in a herculean psionic effort, reached outward across the galaxy with his mind and focussed on the wormhole wrinkle that was named Helios' Weft. The weft was deep inside Sol system's asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. There was little time left to make a better decision. Attuned to his attentions, the Jenquai Explorer ship and the Jenquai pilot opened a temporary wormhole to that far-off point of interstellar, space-fold stability. Greenish gasses erupted from the jump field of the Grandmaster's ship, enveloping the *Rocinante*, the *Culler* and the *Warchild*. They covered each entirely as the process began. The laws of relativity bent at the psionic mind of Vitaes when it was focussed and given momentum by his ship's empowered jump field. "What the-?" came the amazed call of the Sabine Magister Hellstrom. "Somebody stop them!" he protested in rage. * * * To the Jenquai, so used to space-folding and manifesting wormholes to make way across interstellar space, the effect was probably old hat and expected. But to a Sentinel like Pakkratius, the instantaneous travel was always a marvel. He had time after time watched as his vessel was taxi-ed across the galaxy by Explorers-for-hire. And each time, the Pakkratius, could not fathom how the process worked. It was a widely used, but never shared ability that the Jenquai utilized. The Terrans coveted the short-cuts that the Sha'ha'dem were able to take. The Progen turned from red to greed with envy at the tactical advantage the process could be taken. From the moment the gasses erupted from the *Rocinante*, (for the Reporter always took note of the person calling him and their vessel's name), his white ship was clouded and all sensory intake was inhibited as all scopes and sensors registered green. Then temporary green beams of what the Explorers called a "jump field" that initiated the wormhole effect, lined the Doctor's ship. Then all was concealed with green, whatever that was outside unknowable. A second or two later, and the green field was gone and the gasses dispersing as new space came into view and registered on the computers. For the Sabine Sentinel's navigation computers, it was a hiccup of calibration as it had to re-read the stars and find its new position. He had no doubt that Jenquai prepared their onboard computers to be ready for the new location ahead of the wormhole effect. Looking out his bridge's view ports, the Pakkratius could see fields upon fields of the Sol Asteroid Belt. When his computer had finished recalibrating seconds later, he found the formation in a sector of the belt named Asteroid Belt Beta. The Doctor assumed the two Jenquai ships were waiting on him. "Why here?" asked the Pakkratius. "Was it the first weft that came to mind?" "She picked the destination, Dr. Pakkratius," explained the Grandmaster across from him in the formation, indicating Wolfsdottir. "So, um Dot, do you have a particular destination in mind?" asked the Sentinel. The answer was quiet as if she were hoarding an unspoken confession when she answered. "I want to go to to D.C.O." At that she aimed the formation towards the sector gate that connected Asteroid Belt Beta with the neighboring sector, Asteroid Belt Gamma. The formation took off like a shot due to the averaging of warp capabilities and agility of the three craft. The Pakkratius had instantly wanted to protest. Detention Center Onorom should have been the last place a Jenquai girl on the run needed. The station was a huge penal colony prison for the Progen Republic. Under the jurisdiction of the Centuriata Warriors, the colony was the most secure station in Progen space. It was secure at keeping things incarcerated. Nestled within a ring of artificial gravity wells, Detention Center Onorom was generally accessible only through a special in-sector gate called an accelerator gate. The accelerator would shunt incoming and outgoing vessels that passed the checkpoint. At any time the two gates could be shut down, thus paralyzing any vessel trying to break in or out through the 'walls' of the prison territory. "They are not going to let two Jenquai through the accelerators without proper authorization," the Doctor announced. He was not trying to argue the wisdom of this destination. Rather he felt it necessary to point out hurdles in the way. Somehow, the quiet calm of the girl said to him that Dot had a plan and to hide here in plain sight was quite ingenious compared to his plan of running the rim of human space. "Let me drive and I can handle that," said Grandmaster Vitaes confidently. Wolfsdottir yielded over the lead position as the three ships entered Asteroid Belt Gamma through its connecting sector gate. * * * In her training, Wolfsdottir had heard of the rigorous astrogation classes the Sha'ha'dem imposed upon Novice Explorers. At the starboard wing position next to the *Rocinante*, Vitae's Explorer vessel, Dot could watch as the Grandmaster led the formation. The Progen still had his use to come as Dot looked past the lead to the white Sentinel. The Sabine had let his frustration be known and yet was not complaining. Dot was beginning to like this Progen. He was nice to offer his hand at Paramis. The Sentinel was willing to protect her with his strange weaponry against the Outlings and his own kind, the Sabine Order. He verbally complimented her skills in Moto. She had never had such praise from her teachers, only silent encouragement to continually do better than she was at any given time. Yes, this Pakkratius was not the usual fare of Progen Dot had encountered during her service in the Shinwa's Sev Tushnim. The Grandmaster could get them beyond the wall instantly and hopefully unseen once the formation dropped out of warp. All the 'tower' at D.C.O. would see is a visiting Sentinel. Instead of taking the usual rounding course of navigation bouys, the three ships, her 'pack' as Dot was coming to think of it, shot straight past Mier's Perch by freewarping from the gate. Thus removed from the usual path of spacefaring, detecting the three ships would take the Progen scanning technology only the Jenquai used. In return, Dot used her own purchased devices, her Sextans and Telescopium focusing device to have a scouting look across the territory. Dot registered the presence of normal traffic, the general spread of searching Sentinels near the stargate to Saturn sector, and then she saw small trio formations of Jenquai Defenders. Every five or so nav-points, a single Defender would stop, back off the nav a few clicks and then engage its cloaking. "There are Shinwa in this sector," she noted to the Pakkratius. "You are being hunted, Dot," explained the Doctor. He then explained what he had learned from an ex-Shinwa contact of his. The news was surprising but not shocking to Wolfsdottir. She had walked out on them without so much as a farewell. But to hear the part of the entire Shinwa Faction put on alert-search for her was disturbing. What had she done to them directly except leave? The formation paused at a remote asteroid that was not on the general galactic map. Vitaes explained that he in the past had found and mapped Asteroid Marin 33, a short chain of fellow asteroids that streamed just out of sensor range of usual traffic in the sector of space. In the distance, at least to her extended and enhanced scopes, Dot could see the huge red structures of Detention Center Onorom through the clouds of thick asteroids. "Are you sure you can fly through the 'wall', through all those?" asked the Pakkratius, indicating the floating fields of meteors and the gravity fields surrounding the territory. "Watch and learn if you can, Progen," said the Grandmaster. Then the formation, with the *Rocinante* in the lead, charged and dove into the fields. Just out of reflex, Dot checked her harness belts. They were secure. If the gravity fields were to stop them, the jolt might try the inertial dampeners of the ships. She did not relish in having her innards yanked to a halt so abruptly. The console tended to become messy like that. As Vitaes the Explorer weaved through the asteroid belt, closing on the gravity wells, Dot braced herself for the the abrupt stop. But that stop never came. Looking over to the *Rocinante* and the image of Vitaes, his confidence shown plainly, his astrogation was superb. The formation breached the gravity wells as if they never existed. It shot forth through the 'wall' and into the inner territory of Detention Center Onorom. "Now," said Vitaes. Dot reached for a blue button and closed her eyes. The two Jenquai ships shimmered and were gone, fully invisible, as their warp cones dissipated. The formation dropped out of the travel speeds to the more tactical impulse maneuvering velocity. Ahead lay the space station, red and glaring. Of the three ships, only the Pakkratius' ship, the *Culler* was still visible. Dot ran as silent as she could when the traffic control tower at penal station hailed the Sentinel. "You're not on our schedule today, Magister Magna," noted the tower traffic controller to the Doctor. "I know," said the Pakkratius, "but that's my orders from the Sabine Order, to see and interview an inmate. I won't be long, I believe." The Sentinel stole a glance towards Wolfsdottir's invisible ship with the appearance of hope on his face. "Shall I double-check with Warden Orphant?" asked the controller. "Shall I fly all the way back to Endriago and give a null-report to Magna Vinda, the current leader of the Republic? Both of our genomes may take a downturn." There was a pause. Even the signal clicked off. The Pakkratius merely sighed with some air of confidence. Dot decided then that the Doctor had great patience. She would have not lasted so long. Dot watched as the Pakkratius folded his arms and leaned back into his chair over the vid-comm link in the formation. His confidence was mocking his effort, she thought. How was the Grandmaster Vitaes taking this encounter? Then the second hail from the station tower came. "Hail, Magister Magna Pakkratius! Your docking approach has been cleared and a berth is waiting." "Wisdom and strength to the Republic," said the Doctor with a patriotic response. Then Dot eased the formation, with two cloaked ships into the station docking bay hangar. Vitaes called the two as the ships docked, causing two of them to uncloak. He used a tight beam lasercom to ask, "Um, why are we here again?" The Doctor shrugged and looked over at the Defender craft. "She's driving and I promised to leave her alone once we find a station where I can truly interview her. And Detention Center Onorom is no place for a young girl of any race." Dot bristled at the Pakkratius' answer but resolutely shut down her vessel and exited to the hangar deck. She was followed by him and Vitaes. "We get caught doing anything illegal, I don't know you," said the Grandmaster. "Just walk casual like you belong here," assured the Doctor. "But I don't-" Vitaes was cut off by the approach of none other than Warden Orphant, administrator of Detention Center Onorom.
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