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Pakkrat

The Thule Project - Ch. I

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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."
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