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The Thule Project - Ch. II

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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...


...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.-?"


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.
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