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Wolf's Daughter - Ch. II


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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.
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