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The Thule Project - Ch. VII

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The Thule Project - Ch. VII
by Pakkrat

VII. *"Just hold here and maintain full stealth," ordered the Lady DeWynter. "I have a feeling that we will see the rat return soon."*

*The secretary saluted a Progen salute and added, "Yes, Mistress." Joga then turned to relay the order to the bridge crew of the **Andromeda.**

*The black capital cruiser slowed to a halt twenty clicks from the Hyperia staging yard as the two, small vessels entered the artificial wormhole generated by the bookworm, Loric's gate. There was no chance that, under its stealth, the Hyperia Faction leader and scientist could spot her ship.*

* * *

Against stereotype, the Pakkrat led the way into Roc, the only explored sector of the Deneb solar system before collapse of the Appian Gate. The series of nav-bouys that were spread over this region were done hastily by the original explorers that had followed after Amah, desperately searching for the lost Centuriata responsible for the original opening of the Appian Gate. The space here was barely lit by a rust-red nebula.

Pakkrat was joined immediately after by the pink Warrior vessel, the *Kitten*. He sat a moment before the Appian Gate's twin here in Roc. While Siobhan scanned for threats, he used his own devices to stretch out his own scanners in hopes of finding the lost Centuriata.

"Is there some clue in the journal, Pakk?" asked Siobhan when she could find no immediate threat in her scopes.

"I did not have time to scour the entire journal, but Dougal did put in a sketch from his supposed dreams," answered the Pakkrat.

The researcher had scribbled a set of coordinates and a general, hand-drawn map of his dream-Roc. Dougal had even hastily drawn a mythical, giant bird that seemed to label the sketch though there were no words on the drawing.

"Dougal forgot to label the sector it seems, but this drawing seems to elude to some coordinates," noted the trader. "Let's try this direction first." The formation turned and thrusted about on impulse velocities spinward into the sector from the dormant Appian Gate.

The pair passed pristine asteroid fields as they searched. Siobhan spoke up at seeing these, "I think we are in something analogous to Sol's Kuiper Belt. Look, the navs transponder their names with the term 'Kuiper'."

The Pakkrat nodded and continued his flight. Then he stopped the two vessels' formation. "I think," he said, "that I am reading this wrong."

"What do you mean?" asked Siobhan. It was clear that the trader was reading the numbers off the sketch.

"I think that Dougal got the X and Y coordinates backward. There's nothing here." Then the man steered the pair to a different direction. "Either way, the two should be near each other. The two back-tracked a little in the new direction.

Soon, the Tradesman and the Warrior ships came upon a strange sight. On the scopes and the targeter was a rust-red Progen ship seemingly powered down, its engines without life. But stranger still was a dodecahedral field about the ship. It was made of lines of light. It encapsulated the vessel completely.

The main running lights of the Progen vessel displayed still the honeycomb-fist symbol of the Progen Republic. But on closer examination, the bridge of the ship was dark.

"I detect one life-sign, Terran," said Siobhan as she monitored the scanners while the trader closed the gap with the ship and its cage of light. Still the ship remained motionless.

"It's comms are still active," noted the Pakkrat. "Should we attempt to hail it?"

"I don't see why not," said the Warrior, "but use a tight lasercom beam instead. Let's not be loud here." She looked about the area. "This doesn't feel right."

After the Freespacers, the Pakkrat decided to take Siobhan's advice. With a one-to-one lasercom beam, he hailed the vessel. The beam passed through the field about the red hull.

A black-haired Progen woman with adornments on her forehead appeared on the communications monitor. She was dressed in Progen armor but without any clothing between her and the protective gear. To the Pakkrat, seeing such a clad Progen woman was moderately provocative and yet unsettling given that Progen did not dress to be attractive as a general rule.

"I am Amah and you are one of those who tried to kill me. Who and now Does Memnon try again or were you send by someone who believes as he does?" The speech was strange, distracted and disjointed with clashing tenses and speaking of things that had not happened yet.

The Pakkrat hazarded to identify himself with, "I am in need of help. You are Amah, who opened the Appian Gate?"

Amah looked distant, through the Pakkrat as if he were not present at all and as if she were pontificating alone, "I did....with Kahn's blessing. Touch now the truth that saturates us all. There is another reality beautiful and complex. Look to it."

The signal went dead as if the Progen hero had stopped the line of communications. Pakkrat looked to Siobhan and shrugged. "I got nothing."

"Let me," said the Warrior next to the Pakkrat.

Siobhan fed what she received to the Pakkrat as she engaged a similar lasercom beam to Amah's ship.

At the hail, Amah's face appeared again. But she gave no sign that she recognized Siobhan or that she had just been hailed seconds ago. "I am Amah and you are one of those who tried to kill me. Who and now Does Memnon try again or were you send by someone who believes as he does?"

The Pakkrat whispered to Siobhan, "It sounds like a recording even though she's right there at the bridge communications console."

"I am Centuriata Praefect Siobhan, Amah," announced the Progen. "We have come seeking you."

Amah looked once at Siobhan and then up to her viewport at something further distant before saying, "Go back......this place is dangerous."

At that, the Pakkrat checked his scanners, deepened as they were by his devices. There was nothing on the scan sweeps.

Siobhan tried to keep the hero woman's attention, "Amah, is there someone else here?"

"Yes Yes No No Yes No No Yes," stammered the black-haired Progen. "Return the way you came....Deneb is not the way." Again the communications went dead as the strange Progen cut off the connections.

"I think she is trapped in that field," said Siobhan. With a four clicking sounds, the Pakkrat heard Siobhan take off the safeties of her weapons. Alongside her movement to target the light shell about Amah's ship, Siobhan was spooling up a particular weapon signature to the Centuriata.

"Let's see if we can free her from that enclosure," declared the Warrior.

"Siobhan wait-" cautioned the Pakkrat, but he was too late.

Weapons fire shot over the short distance to the shield. Explosive rounds clouded the dodecahedral field, obscuring it for a few seconds. A white beam shot from her Warrior vessel playing across the surface in an attempt to sap its way through the strange energies. After several seconds of continuous chain-gun fire, Siobhan halted her weapons.

Amah's ship remained still within the light cage that showed no sign of weakening.

"Siobhan stop," implored the trader. "I don't think conventional weapons are going to work here."

"What technology is keeping her in there?" asked Siobhan.

The Pakkrat hailed Amah again. She greeted them as before, "I am Amah. Return the way you came.....it is not safe here."

"We are trying to free you from the shell about your ship," said the Pakkrat.

Amah seemed to see the Pakkrat as if from the first time she had encountered the trader. "The crew was not their fault....The crew was unavoidable." It was as if she did not remember the pair's earlier hails.

"Amah," interjected Siobhan. "How can we free you?"

The Centuriata hero again looked distant as she spoke with a growing smile, "There is a reality of another order, the implicate...ultimate..a truth we once suspected which should have died in war in lies which choked on science which lives in spite of everything..the numinous..the heirophony..shown now in gates..the codex itself..and the world that shakes....FOR THIS I BLAME THE PSIS...." Then, as before, the communication line went dead.

To the Pakkrat, the Progen woman was too far gone or strangely trapped, perhaps outside time since she was greeting the couple anew each time. He looked at the Warrior beside him outside his starboard viewport. She too was looking at him with a questioning look. Then his sight dropped down to his own ship's wing. There, mounted just underneath it, hung the dark matter launcher. To the trader, it seemed hungry to be used again. With the small stack of ammunition left and the now two Ancient artifacts mounted, the Pakkrat asked himself a deadly question.

"What about this?" he asked more to himself. "It seems that this is what has been made available." He took the safety to the weapon off.

"Pakkrat no!" rejected Siobhan. "You can't use the power of the Ancients to free Amah. She seems trapped in a bubble of space-time. That is not a shield, Pakkrat. It's...something else.

"Whatever trapped her in there is most likely not an Ancient, Siobhan," pointed out the trader. "We could break the field with these two 'aa' in conjunction with the launcher."

"But then you might kill her in doing so, Terran," explained the Warrior. "Remember what happened to the Bio-hunter? That black stuff destroyed half their vessel and given enough time would have eaten the other half."

The Pakkrat checked himself, but then hailed Amah again, he listened to her greet him again by identifying herself once more anew. Then he asked, "Amah, how can we free you?"

"Do not...attempt.....a cowardice," she said and continued with, "P3889 is one of the keys.....destroy him....they are coming." Again she had stopped looking at him and past him.

A proximity alarm lit up and demanded attention. Both the Terran and the Warrior checked their scanners. There was a mass of many ship-sized objects on the extreme outer sensor range. They were closing fast without signature warp cones or warp wake trails.

"Run!" said Siobhan. "Those are not ships!"

Pakkrat spun the formation back the way they came. Since his travel devices were still in place and his best engine bolted down, the *Labyrinth Runner* was only inhibited, barely, by Siobhan's slower ship beside him. The two ships barely had time to align before shooting from the vicinity of Amah's ship. Over the communications receiver came a insect-like squealing and humming sound from the many objects. They formed words somehow and spoke.


The trader did not for a second try to decipher the sound and gunned his vessel to maximum warp back to the Appian Gate.

"They're chasing us! Go Go!" called Siobhan.

Ahead the still-dormant Appian Gate in Roc, Deneb sat quiet.

A series of grayish beams struck both the escaping vessels. But there was no damage and their speed was undiminished. Pakkrat risked a split-second to look over at his shield matrix strength. It was not weakened.

"I think we were just scanned," he said. "Let's get the hell outta here."

"They're closing," said Siobhan. Her ship began spooling up a Gravity Link beam. She was trying to slow down the darkened objects chasing the pair. "Hurry!"

With a focus driven by fear, the Pakkrat leaned on his ship's Terran Advantage engine. Ahead the Appian Gate drew closer while the cloud of objects hounded them forward.

"Please work," whispered the Pakkrat to himself and the sleeping Ancient Gate. He fed the opening song through the transmitters and filtered by the two Ancient devices still mounted adjacent to the dark matter launcher.

Siobhan's Gravity Link beam struck several of the lead objects, illuminating them in their brown-black glow. They looked like green, gray, purple and ruddy brown insect-like spaceships with glowing green stripes where a cockpit or bridge might be located. Several of the strangers struck by her brown-black beam fell behind the initial wave. The sight of them was a shock to Siobhan because she yelled at the Pakkrat, "Get us out now!"

The song-transmission seemed to be acknowledged by the long-dormant Appian Gate as the eight crescent shapes lit up and expanded as they slid in circles to their proper shapes.

Several more of the grayish scanning beams struck the paired vessels as the Ancient stargate opened to swallow the two ships. The two were pulled out of warp by the slow gating approach via impulse. Directly behind them came the cloud - no nebula - of the alien things. An ear-piercing screech was heard over the communications systems of the gating pair. It was nerve-wracking to slowly enter the gate as the swarm closed in on the two at warp-like speeds. Still more of their beams struck the pair and played over the hulls of the Tradesman and the Warrior. Then they were gone from Roc, Deneb.

* * *

Siobhan's heart was pounding. This must have been what fear felt like. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced in any previous iteration life she could immediately recall. She had always prided herself and her race's fearless, death-defying leap into the dark breach between life and Answering the Call Forward. But it was this encounter with the unknown that removed that confidence, stripping her of the surety that if she had died, her gene-map would have been found and reclaimed. The sensations that played over her heart mixed with the images she saw when her Gravity Link beam revealed the horrors that had chased them.

The Warrior's hands gripped both her horizontal control sticks; her fingers begged to shoot something, anything to rid her of what she alone had beheld. She had landed back in real space just outside the collapsed Appian Gate in Lagarto, Gallina. A second or two passed in the fear-filled eternity before the Pakkrat arrived. His ship was unharmed, but Siobhan engaged her Combat Trance out of a desperate need for stability and willingness to go down fighting.

"Don't move, Pakkrat," the First Sabura warned. Before he could ask, she said, "We are in a gravity shear and a radiation field. Look at your shields."

Siobhan looked down at her shields in the formation status on her heads-up display. The emissions from the collapsed Appian Gate were slowly draining the matrix as it fought to keep out the harmful radiation. Yet, she could not merely warp out due to the fact that the gravity shear was also a deadly well preventing warp speeds. The two were caught in a slow death and had to crawl the gauntlet of dangerous radiation and gravity shear that threatened to rip apart their ships' hulls.

The Pakkrat gently slipped his Tradesman into a new formation and let Siobhan lead. She turned the formation carefully and made for a distant beacon that was their only exit from the deadly field. With their shields strengths slowly declining, the Warrior pushed the formation at slow impulse speeds towards the beacon.

The beacon, placed immediately after the discovery of the Appian Gate's collapse, was an accelerator gate. When activated, the accelerator could use stargate-like systems to slide a vessel across the same sector of space instantly through folding space temporarily. It was not a true wormhole but rather similar to the Jenquai who were able to fold space with their strange systems. Siobhan just had to get the formation to the beacon attached to the slide-gate.

Yet, the sounds of tearing bulkheads and crushing armor gnawed at them as they made way. Siobhan overheard the Pakkrat's ship computer, a female voice say, "Hull integrity at twenty-five percent."

"Stop, Siobhan. Stop," called the trader. "Let me patch us up before we continue."

It was a blessing of the Tradesman-class vessel from InfinitiCorp that its tractor beam was so precise that it could effect on-the-fly repairs to hull as well as tap its reactor in a shield-recharging action that renewed both hull and shields. Here in this current environment, it was a boon that Siobhan prayed thanks to Vita Theodora, the Progen mother in spirit.

"Hull repaired," called the Pakkrat's computer. It was followed immediately by a *RE-VAMP* of the formation's shields recharged.

Soon, the two attained the slide-gate. Activating the accelerator, the formation found itself hundreds of clicks outside the dangerous gravity shear and radiation fields. Without a word, the two hastily left Lagarto sector the way they had come. Fear of their experience on the far side of the galaxy was still too upsetting and made all the more insistent given the slow pace they had to adopt to escape from the vicinity of the Appian Gate in this sector.

During their transit from Gallina back to Aragoth, Siobhan risked a question to the trader beside her in the warping formation, "Pakk, were you scared?"

He looked her from the communications monitor. "Of course."

"How do you deal with it?"

"Deal with fear?" asked the Terran confirming the context of the question.

Siobhan nodded.

"Well, I'm no adrenaline-addict or any thrill-seeker so I'm certainly not one to embrace fear," said the trader driving the formation. "But neither am I one to avoid a healthy dose of common sense and humility when warranted."

Siobhan clarified with, "But once you experience this - fear - what next?"

"Well," thought the Pakkrat aloud, "once I've dealt with fight-or-flight reflexes of survival, I have to stop, remind myself that I'm okay and that things will get better."

"You call these thoughts up to delude yourself?" asked the Sabura.

"Well, I don't see it as delusional but rather optimistic thinking," explained the trader. "You see, clear-headedness is better achieved through a positive attitude than brooding on the negative aspects of what cannot be helped. Fear grips the heart, but it is an emotion we deal with regularly. So, we just attempt to live in the now, put one foot in front of the other and keep going rather than freezing up, incapable of thought, other emotions, causal decision-making or action."

Siobhan nodded and admitted, "I have never felt this 'fear' before, Pakk. We Progen are immortal through the Call Forward. Yet, it was the unfathomable that I nearly froze upon."

"Fear of the unknown," corrected the Terran. "It's the most powerful fear known - the unknown."

The First Sabura, in that moment, had an epiphany about herself. In being iterated as a Sabura Warrior, Vinda's ideal Warrior matrix possessing a conscience, she had to accept that the new warriors would also take on feeling fear. Siobhan considered this and then knew what she would next teach to her new generation of fellow Sabura.

"Thank you," she said gently.

"For what?" asked the pilot in the Tradesman next to her.

She was about to thank the Pakkrat for teaching her to deal with fear, but changed it to, "Thank you for getting us out of Deneb. If we had not been in formation when you gated, I would have been left back there with those....things."

"You are welcome, Siobhan," the man said. "You have helped me too, y'know. I thank you too. You have risked all to talk to your Virtuals. You haven't killed me yet, because I know I rub many the wrong way eventually."

"What makes you say that I ever wanted to harm you?" asked the Warrior.

"I don't believe in coincidences, Siobhan," said the Pakkrat. "Our way has been laid down before us by someone or some things that are pushing us onward, playing us. Too many things have been spoon-fed us to keep us going in this little rat race."

Siobhan, after mentally translating the figures of speech asked, "Then what kept you from shooting Amah back there? That thing, backed by the power of the Ancients could have possibly shattered the alien cell about her ship."

"It could have also killed her as you pointed out," answered the Pakkrat. "But a weapon, even at rest, begs its owner to be used. Anyone with an ego can feel the power a weapon offers. It takes a man -present gender included- to use a weapon, Siobhan."

"You mean the weapon wants to be used?" asked the Warrior.

"But despite being railroaded by this adventure's benefactors, we still have free will," answered the Pakkrat side-stepping her last question.

Siobhan changed back to the means the trader had used to allow them to escape Roc sector. "How did you get the Appian Gate to open, Pakk?"

"Something Amah said," began the trader as he opened the next star-gate into Muspelheim sector.

"Do you know how when you flash a laser into a holograph plate, no matter where it strikes the plate, an image is produced?" asked the Pakkrat before continuing. "The entire plate, end to end, side to side has all the information of the produced image, so that the laser initiates the image regardless of its incidence. The whole is contained in even the tiniest parts. I applied that principle to the signal through the Ancient artifacts to 'Befriend' the Appian Gate. If it heard the call of the Ancients, through a piece of them, then I felt that the holograph principle would apply there too."

"I still do not understand," said the Siobhan with confusion in her voice.

"Look," said the Pakkrat. "Remember what they said about the Codex Shard, how it was supposedly a piece of the larger original and how any bit of the original had all it needed to open an Ancient Gate?"

"That was never tested," said the Progen woman.

"This time I had the right combination, but had to mask my 'voice' as one of the Ancients," explained the Pakkrat. "It's hard to explain but with the addition of the Ancient artifacts, I was able to Befriend or sleaze our way through."

"You fooled the Appian Gate into somehow accepting you as an Ancient?" asked the Warrior incredulously.

"I doubt it would work with a fully functioning Ancient gate, but since the Appian is damaged or collapsed on one end, it seemed worth a try. Seems the thing wasn't in the mood to argue this time."

"Strange, but at least we are alive and returned," sighed Siobhan. It was too much but there was no denying the Pakkrat's desire to survive.

"Another issue, Siobhan," said the Pakkrat. "We can't tell anyone we've been to Deneb. We'd become instant targets for the entire of humanity and unable to hide anywhere. All would want to debrief us, dissect us, or otherwise pick out brains."

Siobhan stumbled over the last strange saying but asked him, "But what of the aliens? What of Amah?"

The trader answered the second question first, "Amah is outside time and space by that strange field about her. She keeps meeting us for the first time. I imagine that she will be the same age whenever she escapes from it. As to the aliens? They didn't follow us and they merely scanned us. We were only chased from that side of the galaxy. Now that Loric and Hyperia have a functioning gate, let other explorers get scanned and chased."

Siobhan felt helpless to aid Amah but returning to Roc was futile. "What now?"

"Amah said that a 'P3889' was the key to - I dunno - saving humanity," said the Pakkrat. "P3889 is a designation for Terran Psis, a particular Psi as each has a different numerical designation. But the Psis are on the far side of human space and we still don't know exactly what these two Ancient artifacts are or what they do. Neither do we know why they seem to have an affinity to the weapon. It's not an Ancient design. Any ideas?"

Siobhan, across her many remembered iterations, recalled memories of explorers finding lesser, framed crystals of the Ancients. She told the Pakkrat how a Jenquai researcher was the only known person to supposedly identify the devices. The Warrior related that those with the devices had to travel to Jenquai space to present the find to a Jenquai woman named Ayako Ravenlock.

"Where is this Ravenlock person then?" asked the Pakkrat.

"Paren Station, Kailaasa - above the new Jenquai homeworld," answered Siobhan.

"Ugh. More travelling," said the trader. "Let's go."

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