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Pakkrat

The Thule Project - Ch. IX

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The Thule Project - Ch. IX
by Pakkrat

IX. *"Mistress, he can see us," warned Joga to her Lady DeWynter.*

*"How is that possible?" asked the surprised DeWynter who stood up from her seat and marched to the bridge consoles where her secretary stood. "Our systems are top-of-line Jenquai, Terran and even Progen. He should not be able to see us."*

*Rather than argue the point, Joga merely pointed at the Pakkrat's ship and the warning target reticle that indicated the **Andromeda** had been targeted.*

Several things happened at one time and they converged upon Kinshasa-Mbali, the paired formation and by extension the cloaked, black capital ship *Andromeda*.

"Do you see what I have targeted, Siobhan?" asked the Pakkrat who was cycling through the huge vessel, the Terran Psi (whom he assumed was P3889) and the multiple bogeys approaching from across the sector.

"I keep trying, but I get nothing," answered the Warrior. "But I am starting to read incoming ships from all over, Pakkrat."

"I think I just made a huge mistake," said the man in the Tradesman ship.

Across the sector, ships of many different classes were converging upon Kinshasa-Mbali. Dark-like, silver ships of Terran Psi refugees turned as one, without communications and flew, in an attack formation, towards the InfinitiCorp Tradesman that had breached such a huge Ancient and thus psionic signature. Through their mutual telepathy, the Psis powered up what little offensive capabilities they could muster.

On the far side of Aganju, the cybernetic psionic brains of the Outling drones, once Terran Psis themselves until the experiments that liberated the brain and stem from human flesh and encased them in cold machines, turned as one and began engaging the largest telepathic network. Via the Outlings' powers, the InfinitiCorp Drone Controllers mutineered and joined the individual Outlings themselves. The unspoken call to all Outlings to converge on the space station over Aganju Planet went out.

*Psionic mind signature of unprecedented power detected. Liberate the mind and add it to our own. Liberate!*

At the simultaneous formation of the Outlings, the local InfinitCorp trade ships, oft-misnomered 'Bruisers' tried to blockade the wave of modified and mutineer mining drones. A battle commenced but the numbers was clearly in favor of the Outlings.

With the incoming Psis and their telepathic calls for aid, the Anseria, Terran terrorists who wanted to free all Psis, erupted from their hiding sites in the near vicinity of the orbital platform. Anseria craft of various classes flew to bolster the Psis numbers. Though not all Anseria were gifted with psionics, being mundane Terran freedom-fighters, they fell into wings and formations to respond.

This in turn roused the patrolling EarthCorps security craft. Charged with keeping Aganju peaceful and under control of their InfinitiCorp contractor, the Terran fighters activated their Rally defenses and grouped into formations to respond. And still escalation continue to rise.

With the activation of EarthCorps, the military arm of the Terrans in Aganju, the Progen Warship Genesis put out its call to heightened alert, summoning the embedded Progen spy ships in the various fields across the sector. Being the only visible capital ship in this part of space, the Progen were in no hurry or true state of emergency. Regardless, the long-sleeping systems of the capital ship were brought online once more.

Via a bounced lasercom beam off Kinshasa-Mbali station, a call from COO Lady DeWynter herself contacted the sub-capital corvette, the *Insider*, and recalled it from the depths of a coreward field of expensive, high-yield ores. It was to return to Kinshasa-Mbali and defend InfinitCorp assets at once. The *Insider*, noting the lasercom beam, thus indicating that the Lady was present in-sector and in need of help, turned and made for the corporate platform. It was chased by another wing of Outlings.

Simultaneously, a similar lasercom beam, again from Kinshasa-Mbali, recalled the InfinitiCorp paladin ships from their guardian posts over Xai Xai station, the funnel registration platform for Psi workers in 61 Cygni. They were to respond to the amassing Psi uprising crossing Aganju's north pole towards the station.

In the far corner of the Terran sector, the sector stargate to Moto opened and flashed its temporary wormhole. Behind the small formation of Rogue Progen ships who had already left to respond to the Progen call, despite their difference of ideology, came two more formations of seemingly-random vessels. First to emerge from the opened portal were three Jenquai ships: two Sha'ha'dem Explorers and a Shinwa Defender.

Grandmaster Vitaes of the Explorer ship *Rocinante*, called from the Antares Frontier to this place, said to his racial kinsmen, "I detect incredible concentrations of psionic energies, both at the station and from all over the sector."

"I concur," added Grandmaster Nervestrike to the formation's leader. "There is a battle about to occur over more than one plane of consciousness and existence here."

"Fire it up, boys," called the Ken'shao ShadowWalker in the lead position.

Vitaes was first to identify his enemies from his friends. The psionic signature auras over every ship in the sector was visible to him in various colorful emanations. Though his chromesthetic synesthesia, he could tell friend from foe without having to target his weapons. He knew just by looking at them.

All the Jenquai lit up their ships with Psi Shields and Environment Fields as they closed on the vectoring ships. This in turn aggravated the nearest wing of Outlings.

*Additional psionic minds have arrived! Liberate all! Liberate!*

The second formation of ships arrived through the Moto stargate immediately after the Jenquai formation. In the lead position of this new formation was the white, sailed Sentinel ship *Culler* of Dr. Pakkratius, Anchor-rat for Net-7 News. Beside him was his younger clone brother Imperator Pakkrateus in his Privateer's *Maze Runner*. He had been called from the moment the Merchant Prince Pakkrat had departed NET-7 SOL in Saturn. Third in the formation trio was the Jenquai Defender *Warchild*, piloted by Pakkratius' adopted Wolfsdottir. All three ships were already Repulsor Fielded and Psi Shielded upon entering Moto.

The Sabine Doctor was seemingly talking to himself as he flew the formation forward towards Kinshasa-Mbali, "All the news from space, this is Net-7 News!"
"How can you do the news at a time like this?" demanded his clone brother, the Pakkrateus. "Siobhan's in trouble."

"Agreed, dad," said the young girl in the third position. "We hunt this day."

All of the two formations of Jenquai and Progen exiting Moto had mustered in Endriago sector and had travelled at maximum freewarp through the battleground of 61 Cygni B, using the Navigation skills of Vitaes and Nervestrike, heedless of the gravity wells and the ongoing warzone there.

Though latest to the sector, the two groups were present before the first shot was fired.

From all over the small sector of space, a battle of true chaos was enjoined. At its core was a single Tradesman ship and a Warrior.

DeWynter lasercommed the Pakkrat, "You just opened Pandora's Box, Pakkrat. You now know far too much and can only save yourself by doing one task for all Terran humanity. Joga!"

"Mistress," answered her secretary.

"Shut down all communications relays coming from or going to Kinshasa-Mbali on my authority. I don't want anything to get through. It seems Net-7 News is here as well."

"No! This is unnecessary - this fight-" the protests of P3889 in the station was cut off by the authority of the InfinitiCorp COO. His fists beat on the transparent windows as a panicked look upon his face evidenced. His mouth kept shouting silently as the Pakkrat watched him from his position.

All about the Tradesman, the Warrior and the black ship before him was a battle of more than eight Factions, each fighting anyone they saw as an enemy and for reasons none but him could truly understand. It was escalating faster and faster.

"You have but one choice, rat," said DeWynter. "This battle. It's nothing compared to the carnage that will come. You learned this, haven't you?"

"Pakkrat, no," cut in Siobhan. Though she could not see whom the trader was speaking, she recognized the voice as Lady Isabela DeWynter. "Don't listen to her, you still have a choice. This isn't your-" she was cut off by DeWynter.

"Joga."

In the time it had taken to kill the communications of the space station, the bulbous coverings had slid back from the hull of the black capital ship. Huge guns and launchers had been revealed. It took only five shots, a small volley, to silence the Warrior.

Siobhan's ship exploded in an outward shower of weapons, unexpended ammunition, weapons, armor, hull, and fins. The ship went dark and was through-penetrated by five huge holes. Siobhan was gone.

"Siobhan!" cried the Pakkrat. He targeted the *Kitten*, scanning it.

"Make your choice, Pakkrat!" ordered the Lady with a firm voice.

With the very-low signature of the huge vessel and the chaos of multitudinous engagements, it was unlikely anyone had seen the attack. But one vessel did.

"A Centuriata ship has been downed," called the Warship Genesis. "All Progen craft engage!"

"You bitch!" said the Pakkrat with tears in his eyes. "She was my friend."

"Traders don't get to have friends, rat," explained DeWynter. "A few for millions, rat. Take the shot, Pakkrat! That is an order!"

The Pakkrat knew exactly who she was indicating. P3889 was right there in the windows, banging on the glass in protest of the carnage outside the station. Only one weapon in the entire sector could hope to penetrate the Terran station's shielding and kill one Psi in favor of saving millions of Psis in the prophesied genocide. One life for many. Was it really that easy? What was the cost? Questions riddled the Terran as he pointed the *Labyrinth Runner* at the man in the observation deck.

There was a wide-eyed surprise on the face of P3889 as the Pakkrat targeted Kinshasa-Mbali's lounge wing. At the ringing, in-range tone, the weapons came online. The trader took off the safeties of his missile launchers as one. Only one would truly penetrate, but it was enough to kill everyone in the observation deck. He paused as the greater battle all about him was in full swing.

Outlings swarmed every ship that displayed any evidence of psionic behavior, whether it was mistaken by a Psi Shield over a non-psionic pilot, a Jenquai disciple of some sort, the masses of Terran Psis being evacuated from Xai Xai Station, the Psis pilots and their craft, and the two active Ancient Artifacts that resonated with psionic energy. All were, to them, candidates to be liberated and saved from InfinitiCorp and added to the Outling society of 61 Cygni B and the greater Menorg Swarm. To the cold, cybernetic machines, this was a generous boon that they sought to deliver to the enslaved Psi minds before them.

Anseria freedom-fighters fought a losing battle against both the InfinitiCorp paladins, the dreaded *Insider* and the contracted forces of EarthCorps, who were only doing their job. Choosing to open a gap instead of winning a war, the Anseria sought to provide an escape route for the evacuating Psis out of Xai Xai.

For the Alliance, yet another Psi-rights interest group, had been biding their time for just such a chaotic event. Their personnel transports pulled into the hangars and offered evacuation to the Psis, under the cover of impersonating InfinitiCorp emergency crews. With their holds filling with frightened Psis, (who could feel the onslaught taking place outside in Aganju), the Alliance tried to sing freedom songs to the younger Psis.

*Fear not young ones, for home is near*
*It lies between the Lost and the Forgotten*
*Take heart for freedom and shed no tear.*
*The holy lord comes for gifted men*
*Sanctus Kyrie!*

The Progen forces of Warship Genesis clashed with everyone, now that one of their honored Centuriata had been dishonorably shot down without provocation. They immediately took to a Kill All - Let The Reclaimers Sort It Out behavior. Any target that fired upon them was subject to the powerful guns of the capital ship. However, their Progen spy ships were hit hard at first by Psi ships, InfinitiCorp paladins and Outling Drone Controllers.

The *Insider* kept thrusting for Kinshasa-Mbali, even as it was swarmed by Outlings and attacked by Anseria freedom-fighters. Though it downed many on its trudge to the station, it was mired by the carnage as fast as it could put out.

"Nerve," called the ShadowWalker, "see what you can do about the *ahem* Centuriata at the base. Perhaps if we can get her Jumpstarted - if she's alive....."

The Grandmaster broke off from the hit-and-cloak tactics of the Jenquai to begin warping to the downed Warrior. Her emergency beacon was still not lit, indicating that the pilot might truly be the first casualty of this insane battle. But emergency Jumpstarting, was the Sha'ha'dem Grandmaster's specialty. He had been partial to many a daring rescue in hostile territories.

"Dot!" called the Pakkratius, "Cloak now! Those Rogue Progen mean business and they still hate Jenquai!" The Report winged his ship around to face off against his own kind, the rogues that had while refusing to be Reclaimed and serve the Republic, yet had sided with the Progen in this Terran theatre of battle. To them, the Jenquai were just another target.

The Wolfsdottir cloaked her ship as her dad ordered, but stayed in formation with him regardless. The last strike to her shields had jeopardized her in her zeal to dance the Dance of Annihilation's call even if she had sworn off the Destroyer's lure.

Pakkrateus in his *Maze Runner* was taking a pounding as his ship reached in all directions with a powerful Shield Nova. Energy lightning erupted from his ship to gain the attention of any 'enemy' that was too close for comfort. A lightning storm with his Privateer ship lit the sky causing all who had not the nerve to cut a wide swath around the nova.

From cloaking, Grandmaster Vitaes, flew much higher in the Z-axis than most to pick and choose his targets wisely. Abhorring this violent conflict, he was no less entrapped within the theatre conflict of many against many. Whenever he saw a means to incapacitate a ship, he chose to fire his weapons from surprise. He took only incapacitating shots as he continued on to Kinshasa-Mbali which looked plagued with dogfighting ships all about it.

The *Andromeda*, swarmed by Psis who could detect minds even if their scanners failed to target the huge, black vessel, let out only a few shots at a time so as to no spoil its advanced cloaking to the entire sector. Even so, the formidable ship's shields took hit after hit from insect-strikes from the Outlings, Psis, Progen, Anseria and any stray shots that missed their intended. Friendly-fire was everywhere as the night was crossed by beams, webs of projectiles and faltering missiles. Joga, at the weapons command post barked orders at the bridge crews as wings of tiny ships sped past the invisible flagship of Lady Isabella DeWynter.

Though they were high-ranking security forces, EarthCorps had never encountered such a variety of targets. With the advance of the Progen, the rebelling Psis, the terroristic Anseria and the launch of the evacuated Psis at Xai Xai, the Corps were hard-pressed to cover all the targets at once. Though they sailed about aiding InfinitiCorp where the could, EarthCorps were not numerous enough to hold the entire tide from reaching Kinshasa-Mbali. The station was enduring hit after hit from stray shots from everywhere. Yet the station's shields held strong to the security forces' relief.

*With but one shot,* thought the Pakkrat at the center of the conflict, *I can end this and save millions. Siobhan, help me.*

The man in the windows who for a second was surprised that the white Tradesman had turned on him, adopted a new facial expression. P3889's arms dropped from striking the glass and he stood up straight. It was the first second, that the man had realized his own danger and accepted his new fate. In the next second, the man smiled a gentle and kindly smile at the pilot - at the Pakkrat.

The Pakkrat's finger touched the trigger that would fire all of his launchers, including Cuinnit Dougal's Prototype Dark Matter Tech 9 Launcher. One life for many kept repeating in his head. But then the Pakkrat saw the calm upon the face of the Terran Psi in the lounge of Kinshasa-Mbali.

A sane man at least would have run screaming for the next compartment, wing or superstructure of the station. But not this man. He stood there, staring gently at the Pakkrat. Was he suicidal or self-sacrificing? Was he aware of the sacrifice the prophesy dictated? The third second ticked.

Time stopped for the Pakkrat. The battle outside his ship, outside the station stopped mid-fire. Then the Terran Trader's world went gray-to-white.

A man stood in the field of grass. Trees in the perimeter of this park swayed to a gentle zephyr under the blue sky of what the Pakkrat guessed was New Edinburgh, Tau Ceti. It was a public park in the city of Bishopgate. Pakkrat had visited here once during the past two years. The park was empty except for himself and a man the trader saw as P3889. On the grassy ground was an array of hundreds - no, it must have been thousands - of chessboards and game pieces. The trader sat, in the same position he was as if he had never left his cockpit bridge of the *Labyrinth Runner*.

The Terran man tried to move and discovered that he could. Standing up from a park bench and releasing the (imagined?) controls of his ship, the trader walked toward P3889. The Terran Psi turned to see the Pakkrat approaching. The Psi was wearing a silver buckled, white jacket. Standing next to a chessboard, P3889 gestured for the man from North America to join him. He had the same smile as in Kinshasa-Mbali.

P3889 was considering the chessboard before him when the Pakkrat spoke to his own amazement, "Is this your game?"

Smiling, the Psi answered, "They all are. Greetings, Pakkrat. I am not what you see before you."

"Then who are you?" asked the incredulous trader. He looked down at as many of the chess games as his field of vision would allow.

"I was Dr. Elijah Malacore," answered the man beside him, "or I will be or am now. It matters little. I too opened a Pandora's Box myself. You know me in your time as P3889, the registered Terran Psi. But I was much more before, during and especially after that."

The Pakkrat felt the mental gravity of what Malacore had just said and decided to go back to the games on the grass with, "Who is your opponent? Are you playing alone, against yourself?"

"Oh no," answered the representation of Dr. Elijah Malacore or P3889. The Pakkrat could not decide which yet to identify him. "That would be a waste of my purpose, goals and ego."

"Then who?"

"Questions, questions," noted the Malacore Consciousness, for Pakkrat was beginning to intuit the details of this encounter faster and faster than even he believed possible. It was as if the entity before him were making him more and more capable of understanding this exchange - this communion.

"Last question then," declared the Pakkrat. "How about I shut up and let you do the....talking - or whatever?"

"Wiser too," observed the entity before the trader. Then he began his tale in the form of images and telepathic phrases.

The planet was Earth. *My first human life was being born to Dr. Carolyn Malacore, 1987 Common Era in Buenos Aires, Brazil.* The pregnant woman stood on the balcony of a penthouse, looking up into the night's stars. Then the light of the exploding Great Magellanic Cloud arrived. She witnessed it directly. His 'mother' collapsing to the floor, the Malacore Consciousness allowed itself to be gestated and later born to human life.

*I have lived quite a few human lives since that day.* Lives lived flashed past the perception of the Pakkrat. Then, as Elijah Malacore, the Terran Psi, Pakkrat saw the entity grow and live as one of the indoctrinated 'gifted'. Through the lessons learned from the First Terran Psionic Suppression, humanity tried to co-exist with the strange and different. The psionic humans. Through the Ramirez Codes, laws enacted to teach the mundanes to live side-by-side with the gifted, the future Psis were taught from very early age that they were special. *We were taught that in trade for our 'gifts', that we should serve the new Terran Alliance with our powers as part of our civic duty.* There were times where change was resisted. Psis died or were tortured. But additionally, there were events where Psis were a great boon to Terrans.

Eventually, by manipulating the Ramirez Codes, InfinitiCorp sheltered the oppressed Psis under its mega-corporate wing in exchange for use of the Psis' abilities. The segregation that occurred between them and the mundane Terrans buffered the violence for a time. But then the corporation began to put the Psis in increasingly dangerous work environments. With their dwindling rights being whittle away, *we became indoctrinated slaves to InfinitiCorp*.

Flashing forward to the Crystal Age, Psis now worked in 61 Cygni with their special abilities. With the dangerous environments of the Aganju mines, lava covered planets, and seeking warded Ancient ruins, the Psis began to wonder if they would ever be free to decide their own fate.

*I tried the passive-aggressive and passive-resistant modalities of your Mahatma Gandhi.* Elijah Malacore attempted to soothe and calm the protests. Violence was not the way. *I tried to speak of non-violence as did a Dr. King Jr.* Yet more and more the mundanes assumed the Psis were less than human, apart from the *homo sapiens* genus-species. Segregation was only causing mundane Terrans to look across the fence at the gifted and the distant Jenquai.

*You see, we perceived, conceptualized and had different realizations from mundanes.*

Forward into time, past Pakkrat's presence in the Crystal Age, the trader saw the exodus of Psis from the oppression of Terran mundanes, the enslaving InfinitiCorp and the invasion of the aliens - *They call themselves VR3X. You have encountered them.* War, destruction and ignorance only fanned the flames of atrocity incurred upon the Psis during the V'rix Invasion.

But one hope, one haven remained. *It was we Psis who were able to calibrate the quantum silk for refining and embedding into the InfinitiGates once the technology was unlocked.*

The Pakkrat remembered in his own implanted vision. Amah, the Progen hero, seemed to recite *"...FOR THIS I BLAME THE PSIS."* The Malacore Consciousness seemed to nod its entity head. *Many will blame us for what we were forced to do by our oppressors.*

The underground egress of freedom continued until there was a grand exodus in the heights of the alien invasion. The Psis migrated, against InfinitiCorp policy to Sanctus Kyrie system in the same constellation as 61 Cygni. Settling a new planet they founded a new society of gifted Terrans.

Then came EarthCorps, who were not going to let such an asset get way so easily. *They invaded Sanctus Kyrie.* Though the Psis were increasing in their powers and awareness, EarthCorps in their secret labs had prepared for this Psi uprising. Fear of Psionic Ascendance was foremost on the minds of the Majestic Project deep in Aquitaine forest moons.

Just before the warships engaged the tiny Psi fleet, EarthCorps released the neurovirus that infected the Psis by their own psionics. Mind after mind, over the entirety of the planet within hours, Terran Psis -by their own perceptions - were burned from the inside out. First was confusion, then came madness and then death. Finally the psionic wails decimated more than twenty million souls on Sanctus Kyrie. Only those that were able to consciously shut off their mental connections, their psionic awarenesses, were spared the initial wave of the neurovirus.

*Now, I was by this time dead. Poisoned and later killed by the V'rix.* The Malacore Consciousness was present for the genocide. It heard the death-wail of millions and took in all of that psionic energy. The consumption forced Psionic Ascendance upon the man that was once the peaceful Dr. Elijah Malacore. It turned him into an angry, sorrow-filled being. It was no surprise to the Pakkrat watching the play of events that the Malacore Consciousness lashed back in vengeance.

With a grand pulse of psionic energy, every EarthCorps ship crew, marines, and command was slain in the wave. Death and karma were good friends that day.

*But your 'prophecy' was wrong that it was the end of the Terran Psis.* Not all were slain by the genocidal neurovirus. *We lived on and slowly recovered.* After their "holy lord", the Malacore Consciousness, delivered them and shut down the system gate to Xango sector, *I took to the black depths to deal with the dark entity I had become.* But ever afterwards, no Psi communicated through the vocal chords again in reverence of their deliverance and liberation.

The Malacore Consciousness sailed the universe, so powerful was its Psionic Ascendance. *It was not the Ascendance of certain Jenquai ambitions, but I had little leverage to argue.* Via its immense ability to perceive itself, the universe even the space-time continuum itself, the entity in its explorations looked backward in time along causal lines of why things had become as they had. It wound back through the entirety of humanity's history and saw more causal lines stretching back before the first *homo sapiens* arose.

*I was witness to something forbidden. The Ancients were leaving our universe. But their subordinates, the Greys or Israfel stormed the gates of the Ancients in protest. You might call them *asura* or fallen angels or whatever your mind can handle, Pakkrat.*

The Malacore Consciousness was witness, though not present to the final battle where the Israfel were defeated and imprisoned within a supergiant star that then went supernova. The blast from inside the heart of the Great Magellanic Cloud caught the awestruck entity and continued onward through time-space, arriving at Earth in the year 1987 C.E. The tremendous energies shredded at the Psionic-Ascendant Malacore Consciousness. A chunk of the powerful being was blown outside time and space yet still maintained contact with its remaining shards.

*This is why I can be anywhere and any time I choose.* In its damaged state at having seen angels battle gods, the Malacore Consciousness withdrew to the span of humanity's timeline and began chronicling human history. It created the Index, a set of crystals that when viewed showed desired human chapters. To maintain the Index, the entity partitioned the remaining shards of itself into Librarians, watching over the Index.

"That does not answer why I am here and what I am doing with a gun to your metaphysical head," interjected the Pakkrat.

*Having viewed their defeat and shame was too much for the Israfel to accept.* They continued to reach out from their prison. One does not descend to mortal lives, even once and then dare to witness the fall of angels. Israfel on occasion managed to escape and meddle with humanity in its early development. They tried in Egypt, at Stonehenge, in China and even to the primitives of North America. But twice did they meet poor endings at the hand of man. Having fended off visiting Greys, man chose to create a body of learned men who would remember these visitations and defend the Earth from all threats. Thus the Shadow Cabinet, later infiltrated by the Greys - the Israfel - to find and destroy the Malacore timeline, even as they continued to 'defend' all humanity.

By the time the limited battle was enjoined by the Israfel and the Malacore Consciousness, limits on maneuvers were already in place. *You see, time-space is inviolate, lest we destroy each other, humanity, the V'rix, and everything in this existance - all existances.* Paradox was mutually-assured destruction, un-writing all involved.

"Those are your opponents in the park, the bad angels," said the Pakkrat.

*They aren't bad. They're just not ready, even as I am not ready.*

The park returned or the two returned to the park. The human man could not decide which was true. The pair stood before the chessboard among many chessboards.

"You have way too many opponents," noted the Pakkrat.

*Tell me about it. All the moves concerning you are on just this chessboard, Pakk.*

The trader looked down at the board. The game was clearly in the favor of the opponent or opponents of the man beside him. Only one move was left on the chessboard, checkmate. Malacore was the 'king' and Pakkrat came to the conclusion as to his role being the dangerous, opposing 'rook' that was to seal the deal.

"Why haven't you lost yet then?" asked the trader.

*You haven't pulled that trigger, Pakkrat. But since I and my opponents cannot rob you of your free will, we mutually agreed to let you make the final move. You can pull that trigger and kill me. More than twenty millions lives will be saved to continue slaving away for InfinitiCorp forever. You would then be a hero to have stopped the Battle of Kinshasa-Mbali and your DeWynter will pay you far more than 161 years of back pay. The system gate to Xango will never be completed and Sanctus Kyrie will remain a dream of the Psis rather than a true hope.*

*Or you can spare me - my human self - and history will play out with much suffering, but also far more hope for the future.*

The Pakkrat paused to ask a question, but never voiced it to the Malacore Consciousness. Instead, he posed a different question, "How do I know you have told me the truth, showing me instead what you want me to see?"

*That is easy.* The man that was Dr. Elijah Malacore gestured wide in a sweep of his arm. Humanoid forms, shadowy-gray in color with folded wings crouched facing each chessboard, each considering their next move on their respective match. *They consented to let you make the move if I was truthful in telling my story. Any falsehood on my part would break the Free Will clause in allowing you here.*

"Are those the bad angels?" asked the Pakkrat.

*Think of them a representation that your mundane mind can handle, Pakkrat.*

"What about the Thule Project?" asked the human to the entity.

*This game? You want the replay? It began with the Greys who made a move to destroy my timeline to wipe out the opportunity to become what I am now. I countered by sending the dreams to a Dr. Cuinnit Dougal. The Greys then input their move to have the weapon hopefully stolen from the researcher. Escaping with his life, he sent the load-out away. I helped him escape, defecting to GETCo. I did not help him forge another prototype despite the Greys' attempts to provide another artifact. The Greys tried another move to counter me. They, through the Shadow Council, sent the nav-disc to your friend, the Finn.*

"Did you send the comet then to counter the attempt to steal the weapon from me?" asked the Pakkrat.

*Neither the Greys nor I saw the comet coming, Pakk. I am sorry you were caught in something neither opponent could foresee or prevent. It is a testament that you chose to survive. I congratulate you on that.*

"The Progen?" further probed the trader.

*A failed move on my part to regain the weapon in time to use to stop Amah from using the Appian Codex to alert the V'rix. I thought that the Warthog might rescue you and take you back to Progen space to bring you closer to the Centuriata hero.*

"But that didn't happen," noted the Pakkrat.

*The Greys then devised a plan by tapping a member of the Shadow Cabinet, Lady DeWynter, (don't ever let her know you are now aware of her), to recover the weapon and its Ancient artifact mate.*

"Finn's dying confessional?"

*My move, as was the journal of the researcher, Dougal.*

"Amah's mention of you being the key?"

*That was a tricky move on the part of the Israfel because they had to speak through her, augmenting her normal, allowed responses. She's now the property of the V'rix.*

"The moves just kept trading shots, like in chess, right?"

*Now you begin to understand.*

"But Siobhan's now dead, thanks to your match," sighed the Pakkrat.

*Another move of the Greys'. When subtlety fails, the whip became necessary to stop your rational mind and pull on your heartstrings.*

Malacore gestured again, this time back to the park bench where the man from Earth had entered. The two went to seat the Pakkrat. Gently placing the Terran's hands back on the physical controls of the *Labyrinth Runner*, the entity then stepped back, again smiling that gentle smile of both surrender and a knowing satisfaction.

"I'm not going to remember much of this," said the Pakkrat as he leaned back into the remembered cockpit seat, "like a fading dream."

*Remember as much of it as you care to, Pakkrat. We will not meet again, save through the implicate order if you consent.*

As one, the many opponents of the Malacore Consciousness stood up and screamed, flapping their wings. Gray feathers flew everywhere as the human's vision field went gray-white.

"TRANSMISSIONISTRAVELLINGATSPEEDSGREATERTHANTHESPEEDOFLIGHT"

The Pakkrat heard sounds before his eyesight registered blurry shapes. His sense of touch intervened before his eyes could focus.

"Warrior," said a Jovian-accented male over the group lasercoms, "I am Grandmaster Nervestrike. A moment and you will be safe and your ship active again."

The man's hands registered the hand controls. His right index was still on the weapons trigger. The tension on his grip was almost enough to fire all the missiles from the *Labyrinth Runner*, including the Prototype Dark Matter Tech 9 Launcher and its dark ammunition.

Finally, the Pakkrat's vision sharpened on the Terran Psi ahead of him. P3889 was still smiling gently at him with a knowing expression. The dream unpacked itself in his head a second later.

"Did you hear me, Pakkrat?" screamed Lady DeWynter. "Take the shot!"

It took a concentrated will to carefully remove his finger from the trigger, his hand from the control. He whispered to himself, "No."

"What did he say, Joga?" asked DeWynter to someone off the comm monitor.

"This game is a draw," said the Pakkrat to the man before him. "The only winning move is not to play. This isn't my load of karma to deal with."

"He's rambling, Mistress," said a deep female voice.

With his left hand on the rudder stick, Pakkrat turned to face the invisible capital ship that only he could see. Recognizing the hazy outline of the black vessel's hull as a cloaking field, the trader began thrusting toward the bridge.

"Mistress, he is moving on an attack vector."

"Pakkrat, just what do you think you are doing?"

Streaming plasma bolts streaked across the hull of the sleek capital ship between the bridge and the *Labyrinth Runner*. Still the Tradesman closed in on the bridge.

"You killed her," said the Pakkrat.

"Mistress, he has a lock on us, here in the bridge."

"You insubordinate rat," called DeWynter. "I could destroy you in a single volley. Finish the Thule Project!"

"You won't destroy me and the weapon with me," answered the trader from Earth. "And you have forgotten that I can target any part of your ship while you can only destroy me outright."

"Mistress!" called Joga. Alarm bells rang out that the Pakkrat was in range of the bridge.

"That's the whole thing about 'Thule'," continued the trader. "Perfection, in oneself, in a weapon that begs to be used, or a perfect haven or heaven. It's right in front of you and yet you cannot grasp it. Sailors tried to attain Thule but settled for less. This weapon is only perfect as the hand that fires it. And the Ancients are a poor substitute for angels to reach for, is all."

"You are fired, rat!" yelled the COO of InfinitiCorp.

"It takes a man to use a weapon," said the Pakkrat seemingly ignoring DeWynter's decree, "but it takes a better man not to use a weapon."

"Did you hear me, you idiot?" shrilled DeWynter. "You are fired! Joga, have EarthCorps arrest this fool."

"The EarthCorps contingent has been wiped from the sector, Mistress," reported the Progen woman.

"You can't fire me, DeWynter," said the Pakkrat. "I quit." His finger paused over the missiles trigger once more.

Over the group lasercom came the weak but familiar voice of Siobhan. "Pakkrat." On the monitor appeared the Progen warrior-woman. She was sitting up with the help of a strange Sha'ha'dem Jenquai man. Her armor had been removed and her black jumper was shredded. But various Jovian first-aid foams and bandages had been administered to her by the Grandmaster. "I'm alright."

Tears welled up in relief as the battle raged on about the capital ship. Calls and flight maneuvers went on as he smiled to Siobhan. Explosions lit up the night sky outside Kinshasa-Mbali.

"You just surrendered all of your back pay and insurances, rat," grumbled Isabella DeWynter.

The Pakkrat looked out the front viewport of his ship, across to the black ship's bridge. There stood the regal Lady Isabella DeWynter. "When," asked the man from North America, Earth, "did you start believing this was about money?"

Before she could reply, Pakkrat cut off the COO of InfinitiCorp. He guessed it was the first in a long time anyone had done so. It felt good. Siobhan was going to recover. Of course she would, he told himself. She's Progen and a tough nut to crack. She smiled at him at his final response to DeWynter, his former boss.

Backing away from the huge capital ship, the Pakkrat re-formed the pair. Aiming the two ships, (hers being mostly repaired by the responding Grandmaster), at the space between Lost Point and Forgotten Point, he engaged the warp drive. As the ship's warp cone charged, the trader flipped the huge, black ship the 'bird' with his middle finger. Then the two shot for the system stargate to Xango on the far side of the sector.

"Pakkat?" asked the warrior.

"Hmmm?" responded the trader.

"That gate isn't finished."

"Yes it is."

Over the local, sector broadcast the Pakkrat sang the nursery rhyme to the stargate seemingly buried in megatons of scaffolding, equipment and repair robots:

*Fear not young ones, for home is near*
*It lies between the Lost and the Forgotten*
*Take heart for freedom and shed no tear*
*The holy lord comes for gifted men*
*Sanctus Kyrie!*

It was a song the Pakkrat had heard Psis sing when they were at their unhappiest. Child-Psis had sung it in the halls of stations as their parents led them away from mundane Terrans.

From inside all the construction structures answered the stargate with its opening. Before the stargate as the paired formation slowed to initiate gating were five escaping personnel transports of the Alliance. They too knew the secret long held by the Psis who had been ordered to construct the path to Xango sector, Sanctus Kyrie system. All the ships which had shared in the song disappeared from 61 Cygni.

"How did you know?" asked Siobhan as they entered a strange and new frontier.

"I had a little dream," answered the Pakkrat.

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