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The Thule Project - Ch. VI

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The Thule Project - Ch. VI
by Pakkrat

VI. Siobhan had to admit that his Terran knew how to make a run for it. Rather than return to Venus, which was swarmed with pirates, capital ships and the Venera Highport, (a den of all sorts); the trader rushed forward through a little travelled exit from Sol.

The travellers emerged into Pluto and Charon. The Terran then swung his down and to the right as the next gate was directly adjacent to their entry stargate. With but a turn, the pair were through the distant sector of space an on to the Kuiper Belt which was home to the Ancient Akeron's Gate, the first discovered stargate that was the source of so much exploration, commerce, war and history. Then adding a simple transmission, the pair were shunted immediately to the sector with the same name.

Akeron's Gate, the sector, was in the deep reaches of the Kuiper Belt but still close to Pluto and Charon, so distant from Sol's sun. The pair entered the strange sector of space from the coreward end of the sector and the trader flew directly for the Ancient gate to Aragoth system.

Siobhan watched on the monitor as the Pakkrat repeatedly, as if by some instinct, looked over his shoulder and out his cockpit bridge view port. "What is wrong?" she asked.

"I don't know exactly," answered the man. "I feel rushed or goaded. It's like I said earlier about someone stepping on my grave. I think we're still being followed or herded onward."

Looking at her scanners as the formation arrived at the Ancient stargate, Siobhan could detect nothing of interest but the icy asteroids of the Kuiper Belt, the huge and historical gap in the Belt torn away by human history and the gate itself. It stood there, stacked up like eight, green crescents upon each other. This was their dormant position, as they were first discovered so long ago. There was nothing else she could detect. "I think you are developing a hair-trigger, Terran."

He chuckled, but the Pakkrat countered, "Progen have their sayings too. Maybe. Maybe I'm being paranoid after acquiring the weapon."

The Terran then transmitted the signal, a 'song' or series of frequencies that Akeron's Gate to Aragoth recognized and acknowledged. The eight crescents lit up with their blue beams and spun and swerved in great circles about each other. There was a great hissing whisper, almost a collection of voices and animal-like vocalisations that accompanied the gate's opening.

"Did you year that?" asked the Pakkrat who looked stunned as he watched the ancient portal come to life with its wormhole rimmed in blue, flickering plasma.

"Hear what?" ask Siobhan. "The gate? Yes, of course, Terran. Everyone hears the strange sounds from the Ancient gate when it opens."

"No - well yes - but I heard something else," said the Pakkrat. "It was a woman or some female. She said for me to 'take the shot' or something like it."

Siobhan gripped her controls on her ship. With but a thumb-flip and a trigger pull, she could have all her weapons firing. "I heard nothing like that, Terran."

Then the portal wormhole was fully opened and the two entered Akeron's Gate to Aragoth system together. Again Pakkrat looked on edge to the First Sabura Warrior.

As soon as they were fully inside the Ancient Gate, the pair found themselves in Freya, the first sector of Aragoth system. Siobhan had flown through Aragoth many times, both as a Centuriata Courier and a few more in this life as a Sabura Warrior. Freya was the 'front' doorstep to the shared system of Aragoth. The three races, Jenquai, Progen and Terran had divvied up the new solar system under the Glenn Treaty. The three races to this day continued to explore the vastness of the new solar system.

"On your map," displayed Siobhan, "I have noted the sector gate to Jotunheim. If you like we can stop at Arx Ymir to rest your nerves, Pakkrat."

"Oh sure," chuckled the trader again nervous. "I've slept in quite a few Progen stations and that one is near the bottom of my favorite crash pads, Warrior."

"We won't 'crash', Terran."

"I - I meant to find a place to sleep. To 'crash' comes from 'crash and burn' or fall into bed and sleep deeply from exhaustion."

"Did everyone speak as you do in your era, Pakkrat?"

"Only us annoying Terrans. The rest were quite clean-spoken."

"I think I see," concluded the Sabura. "Let us at least register there in case things become truly dangerous here in Jotunheim. The Freespacers can be a bit reclusive to a fault."

It was a small matter to register at Arx Ymir. With the exchange of Information Friend or Foe transponder codes, the pair were registered without having to dock at the fearsome fortress of the Dog Soldiers stationed aboard. Siobhan had to remind herself that the Pakkrat was not Progen and thus perhaps had heard enough rumors of the retired program to unnecessarily fear them. She herself, in another life during the Gate War, had been a Dog Soldier who took part in the siege of Jove City in Jupiter sector. The atrocities she could now remember were not to be shared, lest the rumors and fears become truth and night terrors for anyone outside the Progen race and Republic. Thus, the two passed under the towering and imposing crimson structure of Arx Ymir.

Siobhan advised the trader to take his mind off the space station, "Take the coreward route around Jotunheim. What we are looking for is on the far side of the planet."

The Pakkrat winged the formation to port. Then he followed her guidance around the ringed planet Jotunheim in the colorful shadow of the gas giant Odin Rex. Against the blue bands of the king planet, the grayness of Jotunheim was icy and barren by comparison. Yet, Jotunheim had its own draw from the miners. The ring bands were rich with valuable ores from silver, to gold, to platinum and more industrial metals. This of course came with the challenge to the miners to stay aware of the herds of arctic drakes that claimed the rings as their territory. In this knowledge, Siobhan guided the Pakkrat's path to cut a wide swath around the planet via the nav-paths.

Eventually, Jotunheim revealed more secrets than just mining claims. The Terran noted the passing of of wings of more than just miners. There were craft here that claimed allegiance to the Chavez pirate cartels. Siobhan assured him that the destination was of no interest of the Chavez. The Freespacers kept little of value to the various galactic pirate clans and kept mostly to themselves.

Freespacers, Siobhan had learned in her travels as a Centuriata Courier were originally humans from earth that had left in colony ships from Earth, to embrace life in the deepest parts of space, forever adrift. They had shunned the political, corporate and ideological patterns of Earth throughout the Space Age and into the current Crystal Age. The original families were joined by later generations who flew out to join them.

Siobhan had learned, via her new authority as the First Sabura, that the Freespacers were looked down up on by Vinda and the Sabine Order as humans who "did not make the cut" and were slowly eroding themselves with their isolation. The less they behaved like citizens of the galactic community, the further the galactic community wrote them off as something other than human, not to mix genes with. Thus the Freespacers were seen as example of what to not become as humanity spread out into the galaxy.

Claiming no territories and drifting between planets in ships and the occasional space station facility or platform, the Freespacers were the nomads of the galaxy. Viewed with rarity and suspicion, the hermits and recluses were an oddity whenever they docked at a 'civilized' station. They never made landfall on a planet as a rule.

As Siobhan ran most of this to the Pakkrat who listened intently, the Sabura Warrior made sure her weapons were fully loaded. What she did not frighten the Pakkrat with was that there was a dark side to the Freespacer original families who took to the depths. Some of the first flights of the exodus went so deep as to develop quirks and tendencies forced upon them by the need to survive in times of thin sustenance. A few of these families developed cannibalism and a habit of harvesting human and fauna organs. They turned on anything that moved when things became desperate. Soon, those that had gone completely native cannibals and hunted humans were called Bio-hunters. These barbarians, to Siobhan at least, were a quiet secret that the Freespacers would have like to keep quiet and deal with on their own. It was when those Bio- and gene-hunters began attacking living humans for their organs, genes, and selling them in fringe communities of Freespacers that the rest of humanity, Jenquai, Progen and Terrans began to fear them.

Most Bio-hunters flew in single, paired and trios of predatory vessels. While many Freespacers travelled in vessels built for long hauls with plenty of cargo, the cannibals flew interceptors and attacker ships. It was a new plague upon humanity that had done this thing to itself. To Siobhan, it was genetic degeneration and she despised any creature that would eat of its own kind or harvest body parts and organs from the living and the dead for commerce or the consumption larder. While the Sabine Order Reclaimers sought fallen gene-maps of fallen Progen, at least it was not to put them up on the black market or to eat them. The Bio-hunters were more feared than the pirate clans. Pirates accepted your surrender of cargo and let you go onward. The cannibals took your ship, its cargo, your life and then they feasted. They let nothing go its own way. Thus, everyone in the galaxy either ran from a sighted Bio-hunter or fought them to eradication. In this, Siobhan did not share such with the Pakkrat for fear of disturbing this chase for the truth of his peculiar story.

Siobhan doubted the Freespacers would even mention their degenerate and distant cousins to the Pakkrat. She allowed the trader to fly onward to the remote, overlooked and strange nav-bouy of the Freespacer Void Moot.

Soon the odd beacon was before the pair who dropped out of warp early to gently approach the gathered few ships there. The beacon was a solar powered, large shield unit that emitted a pulsing field of a deep blue color and itself glowed a vibrant orange. Floating in space, it was surrounded by the brassy ships. Siobhan was relieved to see that there was not a full moot of a hundred or more ships. Rather, there were a about ten or so vessels of the hermit, depths probes present. As the formation of a Terran and a Progen approached, the Freespacers seemed to take notice only by making room to orbit the odd nav-bouy. None hailed the new arrivals.

"Now what?" asked the Pakkrat when it was readily apparent the Freespacers were not going to acknowledge them other than navigational safety.

"Hail one and talk to them, Pakkrat," encouraged Siobhan. "They speak their own dialect but will still answer you. Just be friendly, like most Terrans."

"That I can do," said the trader with some confidence at last.

It was a strange skill to watch as the Pakkrat, a member of the Terran trader-caste, (though they did not term it so as did the Progen), used the Befriending techniques of appearance, approach, and pitch-tone of voice to ease those they came into contact with. It was not an easy skill to engage, Siobhan noted as the Pakkrat spoke. The very few Freespacers that deigned to pay attention to the Terran Tradesman, seemed to grant him at least their time. But soon enough, he had those few exchanging information. The trader then paid them in standard credits via a transfer of galactic-assured data-script. The gentle, marketing language the Pakkrat used had acquired the information and Siobhan had caught only most of the full conversations with the grateful hermits. If she had not seen it performed before, back when she was a courier for the Centuriata, the Warrior could have mistaken it for some form of social psionic discipline, possibly gleaned from Terran Psionics or "the gifted".

When the communications were at last severed, Siobhan called to the Terran, "What did you learn?"

"I learned that the Freespacers barely kept records of their deaths beyond individual family trees."

"Family tree? As in groves of trees?"

The Pakkrat smiled at another failed connection of terminology, "No, you might call them genetic family genome lines, Progen."

"Oh," blushed Siobhan.

"But the later diaspora were given more care and welcome as they joined the Freespacers already present. Joining clans and families warranted better documentation."

"And the doctor, Dougal?" asked Siobhan.

"He lived out the rest of his days among the Freespacers. They gave me his burial coordinates on an asteroid. He took no family of his own and died a true hermit alone." The Pakkrat paused a second as if considering his next move. "We have to go to his crypt and see if there are any clues. The clans here reported that he took some personal effects to his grave with him, like some Egyptian Pharaohs."

"I see. Terran humans are strange. They try to take material things with them to their post-life," noted Siobhan. Progen released all their material possessions to the Republic and with pride awaited the next opportunity to Answer the Call Forward. There was no pride in dying aside from the dignity of serving once more once Called.

"Well, we Terrans have a ways to go it seems," conceded the Pakkrat, "even in this Crystal Age."

With the coordinates to a distant location far to the fringes of Jotunheim sector, the Pakkrat freewarped the two ships without much more than an estimate of its distance. Siobhan had to trust in the Pakkrat's navigation skills as this route and vector from Jotunheim made the planet grow smaller in the growing distance. Soon even the rings of the planet were barely detectable on her ship's scanners.

"Boy, they do like to bury them in the dark," said the Pakkrat as he gave the controls the command to drop out of warp speeds and began to thrust about at impulse thrust.

Neither being exploration-class vessels, the Tradesman and Warrior ships took some time flying about the distant asteroid field, searching the rocks and hydrocarbon deposits for the largest "coprolite in the sandbox" according to the Pakkrat. Another of his sayings, the Siobhan let it go and continue to scan the area.

Panning their exterior lights about and double checking their scanners for human-made angles and structures, the two made their way though the field. At last, in the gloom of the rocks and hexagonal shards, the huge asteroid revealed its silhouette to them against the king planet of Aragoth system, Odin Rex. It was a barren and unremarkable asteroid with no crystalline adornments or attractive veins. It seemed to Siobhan that the buried human dead welcomed their forgetful resting places without any form of grandeur. Death to them seemed a quiet end, unlike her fellow Progen who had something forward to expect. It was saddening that Terrans accepted death as a finality of existence. She had to shrug it off when the Pakkrat spotted the small necropolis of squat crypts of long-dead Freespacers.

The two ships pulled up to hover above the site. Exiting their craft, again in EVA spacesuits, the two pilots stood in the entombed graveyard arrayed over the surface of the asteroid. In an alien landscape given her Progen race, Siobhan out of a Warrior's habit un-holstered her Athanor heavy pistol. The Pakkrat saw her do this and asked her about it.

"Siobhan," said the Pakkrat, "everyone's dead here. Why the gun?"

The First Sabura noted his calm and tried to nonchalantly respond, "Precaution only." This seemed to draw just a shrug from the man as he went about searching each crypt for the name of Dr. Cuinnit Dougal.

Was it luck or just happenstance that the Pakkrat got a break from difficult searches of recent times, asked Siobhan inwardly. It was under a couple of minutes before he called her over to the squat crypt marked with the researcher's name. He looked at her with a curious, regretful look before asking her to help him crack open the hermetically sealed crypt. Even though the small, single-man stone container was slowly emptied of air, to preserve the contents with as little damage as possible, a tiny zephyr managed to escape as a tiny cloud.

Shining her vambrace torch into the crypt, Siobhan revealed the long-dead Dr. Cuinnit Dougal. To her, this was but a shell that had not been recycled into the regenerative sequences of the Sabine. But to Terrans, the Warrior knew that it was so much more to the Terran beside her to defile such places. This was so because he gingerly avoided touching the long-ago depressurized corpse therein. When her torch passed over an old leather bound journal next to the thigh of the dead researcher, a glint from below it gave visual report. She lifted the journal carefully and revealed the orange-gold, octahedral frame of another Ancient artifact. She looked at the Pakkrat who returned her surprised reaction equally. Finding a second Ancient artifact in less than two days was unheard of in these times and both knew it.

The Pakkrat lifted it up and away from the corpse, careful not to disturb the husk of the Dougal corpse. It was dusty as the particulates of the air inside the crypt slowly settled as it let out air over the decades. He rotated it once or twice in his hands before brushing off the surfaces of the frame that held another mysterious crystal in its shell. There was little to say that was not already on their facial expressions.

Then an alarm on Siobhan's vambrace made her jump with surprised fright. It was a personal combat application in her vambrace's forearm PDA. It was a motion detector. Set to alert her of movement greater than a few meters away, its alarm continued to pulse at her. She stepped back and leveled her heavy pistol at the same time she checked the display that demanded her attention.

"I thought you said everyone here except us was dead," she said quietly to the Pakkrat.

"I did say that-" returned the trader who was looking at her PDA over her shoulder, trying to see what the alarm was for. She cut him off.

"Don't move," warned Siobhan as she pivoted in the indicated direction of the movement. Then when faced in the correct position, she touched her faceplate, right between the eyebrows and closed her eyes for a full second.

She had begun the Combat Trance, a discipline of the Centuriata and through them bequeathed to the Sabura Warriors via Vinda's decision to keep the skill for her brand of Warriors. Her free arm still held the Athanor heavy pistol which was now connected to her weapon-arm's vambrace that held a larger magazine of pistol ammunition. Her armor was primed for a firefight. Then the motion detection program detected more movement. She took the safety off the weapon. The Terran was just behind her with the artifact and the journal she had handed to him at the alarm's first report.

Syncing the detection program with her armor's myelin-fiber, black jumper, her arm moved, almost on its own, to point the weapon at the first, closest target. It was coming closer at about 50 meters. She bent her knees a little and dug in her stance. Though in the back of her mind, Siobhan had heard of entertainment vid-sims of horror stories of Terran dead come back to life, she put them further back as the Trance set in and she was primed to kill.

"There's not supposed to be anyone but us here," whispered the Pakkrat gently. He must have studied her stance and known something of what she was doing.

Then the rush came. Six humanoid shapes in the gloom revealed in shadowy silhouettes as Bio-hunters armed with two-handed tools meant to open crypts. The first one barked a phonetic that was unfamiliar to Siobhan. It hardly registered so calm was she in the Combat Trance. When the grave-robbers were within ten meters exactly, the Combat Trance made deadly precise by her armor, Siobhan began firing. In the vacuum of the asteroid, the normally sharp pound of the weapon fire was muted and only registered in her spacesuit as a dull thud. The recoil of the kicking weapon was, via the armor's myelin fibers spread over her entire body. It knew, each time she pulled the trigger where and when to go rigid in order to soften the weapon's recoil. Thus Siobhan gunned down the first attacker to rush the pair in under two shots and before it could cover a meter towards them. The Warrior and the suit then changed targets as one and continued firing the heavy impact rounds from the pistol.

She barely noticed that she was kicking up dust as her armor transferred the recoil energy to the dust-covered ground around her. The second target dropped at eight meters, the third at seven meters. Without a round spent uselessly, Siobhan's armor would not let her pull the trigger of the Athanor if the shot was not perfect. This happened when the fourth Bio-hunter ducked behind a squat crypt. The fifth and sixth enemy did likewise seeing the first three drop so quickly. There was more of the strange dialect from behind the crypt. All the same, the First Sabura kept her aim at the nearest movement beyond the two meters about her.

"Back to the ships, Terran!" she ordered imperatively. When the Pakkrat bolted to his hovering Tradesman, Siobhan began moving. She knew this would spoil her exacting aim, so she opted for a suppressive fire tactic as she began retreating. The fourth Bio-hunter peeked up over the squat crypt and her suit picked him off, right between the eyes. Then her Combat Trance was spoiled as she ran behind the trader. Seeing her run, the Bio-hunters gave chase with their angry, slurring speech calls.

Ahead as she ran, Siobhan saw the Pakkrat signal his ship to allow him entry. He could run fast on those tall legs, she noted. In a flash, he was aboard the *Labyrinth Runner*. It would take him a second to get seated in the cockpit bridge and get the Tradesman moving. The Sabura woman ran toward the *Kitten* when the vambrace alarm rang again, a deeper tone. An unknown ship was coming from behind her, over the horizon of the asteroid. Her PDA warned her, recognizing the shape and configuration of the Bio-hunter interceptor. Just a few meters more and she would be in range of her vessel.

Above her, the Pakkrat's ship began to pivot towards the incoming interceptor. There was a bright, white glow from the backside of the prototype launcher as power was fed from the Tradesman's reactor to the weapon. The glow illuminated the entire side and wing of the InfinitiCorp ship as three things happened at once.

In a split second, a single, coherent beam shot from the launcher to the Bio-hunter ship, less than a click away at point-blank range. Second, inside the blink of an eye, the launcher was bathed in ultraviolet exhaust of the missile that shot from the weapon. The Pakkrat had fired on the Bio-hunter. Lastly, her own ship called her inside it. She entered and jumped into her pilot's chair. She did not get to see the missile explode. She grabbed the double, horizontal sticks of her helm and swung the *Kitten* to face the Bio-hunter ship.

Targeting the ship, Siobhan saw that the grave-robbers' vessel was covered in dark matter from port wingtip to its port fuselage. The strange substance was destroying matter at the quantum level rapidly without explosions. Sparks and gasses erupted from the gaping hull as the Bio-hunter returned fire. But there was a hazy white field about the target that spoiled the exacting beam weapon that shot the trader's ship. Though the beam landed, it merely tested the shield instead of truly trying it earnestly. Siobhan guessed as she pulled her triggers that it had something to do with the white glow and beam from the Terran vessel. Her chain-guns rattled deadly explosive, prototype rounds at the Bio-hunter which at first rammed at the shield of the interceptor. But with the rounds overloading the shield, it was the second volley of other missiles from the Pakkrat's ship that passed the outer shield. Another beam shot the Tradesman, again weakened by the white field about it. Was it the Ancient artifact?

Finally, the Bio-hunter's shields were down and already the enemy was overmatched by the guns of the Warrior and the third volley from the Terran trader. The rounds and missiles continued to pound until the entire ship exploded in an energy wave that pushed on the two ships.

"Travel gear!" called the Pakkrat again in the lead position. "I've got another on my scanner. Let's get the hell outta here!" Over the comm-screen, Siobhan could see him hit two buttons on his console at once. Her vessel, the *Kitten* was blessed by the Tradesman with heightened engineering as she scrambled to replace her combat devices with warp-enhancing gear and navigational supplements. The other button called upon his reactor to recharge his shields.

*RE-VAMP!* reported his shields. She could see in the group status display, that the *Labyrinth Runner's* shields were back to maximum as the formation spun for the vector in which they had come. "Go!" she called once she saw her devices had properly seated.

The two shot into the night from the necropolis asteroid.

* * *

*The pair were underway to Odin Rex as the **Andromeda** slowly trailed behind leisurely. Onboard, on the bridge, the Lady Isabel DeWynter played back the recorded telemetry of the second battle in which the Pakkrat had used the weapon.*

*"By my guess, the dark matter is mistaken by normal, defensive shielding to be non-existent and therefore not a threat," noted the Lady out loud. Joga, near her and also monitoring the recording nodded in concurrence. De Wynter continued, "So, since the weapon is not a threat, the shields don't deflect it."*

*"An impressive weapon, Mistress, that would put Terrans decades before all others in the arms race," added the Progen female secretary. She remained stoic the entire playback.*

*"I want it," said DeWynter, "but first I want him to use it on the cause of all this mess."*

* * *

"I still don't see why the hero Amah is involved, Pakk," said Siobhan as she flew the lead position in the formation. The man from North America, Earth had been skimming the leather bound journal of the late Dr. Cuinnit Dougal during the trek to distant and strange Lagarto sector.

He took a bit to answer, but the Pakkrat came up for air. "Siobhan, something was goading Dougal to forge the weapon. The same force or forces also provided him everything he needed. It's right here in his journal and notes, like he won a lottery or something."

"What is a lottery?" asked Siobhan whose voice searched him for another new word from his past.

"You know, a lottery," said the Pakkrat pausing again from the journal. "It's a random drawing of numbers or characters in hopes that a match from contestant population will determine a winner."

"Such charity," noted the Progen woman, "would be unnecessary in the Republic. All are given everything they need to serve. Beyond that is merely a matter of exerting a little more effort to earn what what desires."

"Well look at when and where I come from, Warrior," said the Pakkrat.


"Dougal assembled the weapon at the whim of whatever or whomever was driving him," recounted the trader. "But how could they have known about your Progen Amah hero so distant in the future? It's like Dougal's benefactor knew the future."

"Hence why we are on our way to ask her?" asked Siobhan.

"We also need to stay well away from InfinitiCorp, GETCo and Progen space if you've forgotten that you are the one who talked to your Progen Virturals machine," reminded the man.

"We are begging for reclamation," said Siobhan.

It was his turn, so he asked, "Reclamation?"

"You might say, back in your era, that we are digging our own graves, Terran of the Space Age."

"Oh," nodded the Pakkrat. Then he continued reading in the dead man's journal.

Arriving in far-off Lagarto sector in the Gallina solar system, Siobhan halted the formation after gating. She turned to the Pakkrat, "You do know that since the collapse of the Appian Gate, that the route Amah took is nigh-unusable."

"Something that was said back at Earth Station leads me to think otherwise," disagreed the man.

"Did someone speak to you?"

"In a manner," answered the Pakkrat. "Just hug the rimward fringe of the sector as you travel spinward. I've learned a thing or two in my short time here in the Crystal Age. I find paths that others write off."

"A wonder that you are not one of Hyperia's Scouts," said Siobhan.

"Yes, but I ride just behind the explorers most days," smiled the trader.

The formation traveled past the gravitational anomalies, wrecks of spaceships, fields of silent asteroids to the outer edge furthest from Lagarto Planet and its two moons. Siobhan was verbally surprised at the little-known fact that the gravity wells did not inhibit travel all the way out to this extreme range.

Soon, off the starboard bow and some distance away, the passive scopes acquired targets of a small space station and a construction yard. As the formation drew closer along its own track, the structures looked Terran in make. Rounding the rimward - spinward corner of Lagarto sector, the Warrior and the Terran beheld a massive third structure that gleamed like a new InfinitiGate, yet it was most assuredly not from the corporation of that name.

The station facility hailed the two ships as they approached carefully. Siobhan answered the call.

"Welcome travellers to the Hyperia Office and Construction site of the Hyperia Gate to Deneb. This is restricted space under the flag of Hyperia. Would you identify your vessels please?" It was a male voice, familiar to the Pakkrat who answered first.

"Merchant Prince Pakkrat onboard the *Labyrinth Runner*, sir and we have need of passage to Deneb," said the trader in response.

Siobhan added her own identity, "Praefect Siobhan of the Centuriata aboard the *Kitten*, the Pakkrat's wingman in this journey."

Pakkrat looked over at the bright and hot pink Warrior vessel and spoke to her, "Kitten?"

"Hush, rat," countered Siobhan.

The station's signal displayed a younger man who stood on the monitor, wearing work technician's overalls. Many instruments and tools filled his pockets. He adjusted the lens goggles on his head.

"I am Loric de Grey, administer of this Hyperia project and let me say that unless you can somehow re-open the radiated and dangerous Appian Gate, your trip is in vain. Even my Hyperia Gate is not ready to go online. I still lack the right type of crystal of inverted matter planes and crystal lattice structure...." Loric rattled of another five seconds of technical jargon totally lost on the Pakkrat.

"Sir, I - that is we - being men of hard empirical evidence don't believe in coincidences," cut in the trader. "I may have what you are looking for."

"Pakk, what are you doing?" asked Siobhan.

"What did you bring me?" requested Administrator Grey.

"The load in one of these warheads of this missile may solve your problem, sir," said the Pakkrat as he tractored a dark matter missile to the station. It was received and a minute went by with no exchange. The man then turned to Siobhan.

"Do you believe in fate, Warrior," asked the trader.

"I believe I make my own way as I serve the Republic, Terran," answered Siobahn.

"Good," said the Pakkrat. "Then we agree that we are being goaded, not by fate, but whatever was also driving Dougal back in my day."

"Eureka!" called Loric de Grey interrupting. "The inverse planes of this sample perfectly match the negative energy needed to focus the plama ener-"

"Will it make your Gate work sir?" Pakkrat had no time for technicalities. The trader wanted to be on the far side of this gate. The hairs on his neck were starting to stand up again. He looked over his shoulder and out a viewport at the starry sky behind the formation.

"Well, there may need to be some preliminary tests but-" Loric tried to explain.

"We need to go to Deneb now. You have what you need as our fare."

"Well it's your funeral, sir and your gene-map, ma'am."

"Progen do not fear, Administrator," said Siobhan.

Many construction robots swarmed from the Hyperia Office to the staging yard where the new Hyperia Gate stood dormant. Lights came on and illuminated the prototype stargate fully. It gleamed with new technologies unlike the two newcomers had ever seen. In minutes, Lorics robots had included the dark matter into the systems of the Hyperia Gate's field emitters. Pakkrat did not want to think much further into how it all worked. His worry was that the pair were somehow still being hounded, either by the force that guided Dr. Cuinnit Dougal or the thing or things that were raising his hackles.

He took the lead position in the formation and flew to the entry vector of the Hyperia Gate. The Pakkrat saw gating systems come online and his sensors detected a power build-up. The Hyperia Gate was spooling up its wormhole to Deneb! Then the gating option appeared on the pair's targeters.

The Pakkrat took a breath then pressed the actuating button to begin gating. The formation drifted forward slowly, into the field rimmed in plasma. "Yea though I walk through the shadow of the Valley of Death..."

Siobhan finished with, "....I shall fear no evil, for I am the baddest mutherfucker in this Valley."

"That's not how the origi-" said the Pakkrat before being interrupted by the gate to the far side of the galaxy.

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