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The Traveller: Sorrow Has The Swiftest Wings – Chapter 5

The Ula’Tora system…

“So, what’s the rush?”, asked Sleek as the Pride Of Kraan II decelerated from hyper-light speed, several million miles clear of the “slick” of discharged waste. “It’s not as though this stuff’ll reach an inhabited planet for, say, decades – and surely we’re not the only people around who can deal with this. What about that Emergency Intervention bunch? This is exactly what they do…”

We received the call, so we’re responding”, Jason told her. “And as far as the time-scale of the threat is concerned, the longer the waste has to spread, the longer it takes to clean up, and it’s already a hazard to navigation. If the Ula’Tora system gets a reputation for dangerous spatial conditions, their economy could end up going straight down the tubes.”

“Anyway, you’ve been wanting to see some action”, added Suya. “Consider your wish granted – unless you’d rather we carried on cruising around, scaring away all the trouble.”

The complaining ceased, allowing Jason to set out the plan of action for the team. “First of all: containment”, he began, calling up a three-dimensional diagram of the situation. “We need to extend our shields to form a ‘scoop’ so that we can gather up the waste. If we have support ships in position to act as anchor-points, that’ll be a big help – ‘Snake, Sleek, that’s where you two come in. Take the Bon Scott and The Black Arrow, and take up positions here, and here…”

The Traveller, now back in command of Mariella’s body, watched and listened intently. The plan seemed a good, and effective one, but all the time, his mind was devising improvements, alternate approaches – there was absolutely no point in standing around idle…

“…the fabrication plant is producing storage containers as we speak”, Jason continued. “We can reshape the shields into a funnel, and begin collecting up the waste…”

“Or you could neutralise it in situ“, suggested The Traveller. “You have a team member with matter and energy manipulation powers…”

“No”, said Suya, adamantly. “I… I don’t want to go anywhere near that stuff.”

“Hey, I’m not exactly thrilled about the idea of goin’ out there in what’s essentially a space-going sports car, with all that crap floatin’ about”, said Sleek, “but I’m gonna do what’s needed. Not everyone can get all ‘child of nature’ about things…”

“It-it’s not that”, murmured an anxious-looking Suya. “I…”

“Okay, so maybe that’s not going to work”, Jason intervened. “Is there any alternative?”

“There might be”, offered The Traveller. “Do you happen to have any iso-baryonic modules on board?”

“The Bon Scott has got some stealth-enabled torpedoes on board”, said Shadowsnake. “Those have iso-baryonic pre-detonation cores. What’s the idea?”

The Traveller gestured with the Omnisensor in the direction of the holographic display, and Jason nodded. “Chain maybe six of those together in a standard torpedo casing”, said The Traveller, transferring diagrams from the scanner’s memory to the ship’s tactical computer, “and with a bit of work, you can make your very own anti-protogenic generator. Drop it into the heart of the collected waste, let it cook for a few hours, and you should have nothing left but inert matter. Compress that into one of your newly-fabricated cargo pods, drop it into the sun – job done!”

“Can you prepare this generator for us?”, enquired Jason. “Whatever you need, I’m sure we can provide it.”

“Just the torpedo, the iso-baryonic cores, and a workshop”, answered The Traveller. “Ten minutes once the materials are assembled, fifteen tops.”

By the time The Traveller arrived at the workshop, adjoined to one of the ship’s static torpedo launcher bays, all the necessary materials were already there, waiting for assembly. With the assistance of a pair of engineering robots, the work was done in eight minutes, the projectile loaded and ready to fire within the promised ten, and The Traveller returned in time to see Shadowsnake and Sleek take off in their respective spacecraft, one a fast attack ship somewhere between a shark and a bird of prey in shape, the other smaller, a customised space fighter.

“All done”, reported The Traveller, saluting. “Just make sure the waste is kept to a spherical volume no more than a standard mile in diameter, and the conversion should be done in… I’d estimate four hours.”

“Excellent work”, said Jason, with a grateful smile. “Thank you. Now, if you would be agreeable to lending us your clearly prodigious skills for a while longer, we’d appreciate you at the main science station.”

“My pleasure”, said the explorer, taking up the position to Jason’s left.

Piece by piece, the plan took shape in the physical world, the two smaller ships taking up their assigned positions, the shield generators stepping up to take on the added burden of extending their protection over a considerably greater area than normal, The glow of her engine pods increasing in intensity as her central power core delivered energy to where it was most needed, the Pride Of Kraan II and her two tiny attendant vessels began to creep forward, towards the greenish, luminous cloud of industrial waste.

“Extended shields holding at forty percent power, integrity holding”, announced The Traveller as the energy barrier made contact with the bank of near-liquid toxic fog. “It’s looking good. The ‘slick’ is staying in one piece, just as you might expect for Type Four residue.”

“Pity Suya wasn’t up to converting the waste”, remarked Jason as the process of “shepherding” the spill into one spot continued. “We’d probably have this done a whole lot sooner – but I guess that ‘cosmic awareness’ we talked about must’ve kicked in, or something…”

“They are in danger.”

The interruption came from Cloudmane. Jason turned to the bank of view screens along the right-hand wall, where his brother was pointing at the star-chart displayed there, pointing in particular at a neighbouring planetary system. “Now what?”, muttered the AGK leader. “This better…”

Orb dropped down from its mounting up in the ceiling. “We are reading a distress call on an open channel”, said the spherical robot. “Passenger cruiser Lo’Khang’Kar, on route from Klesys to Ramphigar Minor. The waste spill has caused the ship to divert into disputed territory in the Rekla’daath system. They have struck several uncharted space-denial devices, and are experiencing drive malfunctions and atmospheric loss.”

“Oh, wonderful”, sighed Jason, his head drooping. “Fantastic…

“I can go”, offered The Traveller. “You have all this under control, and you have all the equipment you need. Just make sure the slick is compressed down to not more than sixty per cent of optimum diameter, say half a mile, and the torpedo will work fine. The waste cloud won’t have time to drift apart before it’s all neutralised. I can go and stabilise that passenger liner, and keep things from getting any worse before you can get there.”

Jason glanced up at Orb. “You have all the necessary data?”


“Please proceed with all haste, ah, Master Traveller”, the AGK commander told his guest. “And if Cloudmane wants to go with you…”

Jason’s brother looked round, eyes alight with expectation.

“…I’d be happy to spare him for a while. There’s not a lot he can do around here for now.”

The Traveller stepped down from the main command platform, and offered an extended hand to Cloudmane. “Master Derwent?”, he said. “Shall we go and impress Miss Saluq with our heroism?”

Cloudmane was first out the door, and off down the corridor without need of directions. He simply needed to sense where Irinati was, and his legs did the rest…

…o O o…

The edge of the Rusha’daath System…

Doomstone felt space react to the detonations before the distress call began reverberating through the void. The course of the passenger ship, the “taste” of the sub-ether mines “bruising” the uppermost layers of the dimensional boundary – the hero did not need to be told what had happened, and he did not need to be asked to bring his powers to bear on the matter.

He was already well on his way when the “wave-front” of the distress call, radiating from the stricken vessel, “washed” over the hero. The crystal shards translating the comm-signal directly into telepathic impulses, and feeding those directly into his brain, Doomstone became immediately aware of the entire situation, and increased his speed…

“He’s responding.”

“Good. I’m in position. What’s the status of the AGK – are they still dealing with the waste spill?”

“Yes – and doing a surprisingly good job of it, too.”

“Are they likely to reach the passenger liner in time to complicate things?”

“They haven’t started collecting up the waste material yet – could be they haven’t manufactured the necessary equipment yet.”

“What I could do with that ship…”

“May I remind you that you did request that, at times like these, I should remind you to ‘focus on the mission’, My Lady…?”

“Indeed I did. Please continue to do so, little one – such dreams can wait for another day…”

…o O o…

The Rekla’daath system…

“All right, you two”, The Traveller told his companions as The Endless Sunrise came to a stop. “Stay here, and wait for me…”

“I want to help”, insisted Cloudmane. “It-it’s what I should be doing, not hanging around in here. It’s what I was born for.”

“And I’m not staying here on my own”, added Irinati – and The Traveller did not miss her expression as she looked up at Cloudmane. She seemed in a state of utter bliss whenever the hero was near…

The Traveller sighed helplessly. “All right – come with me. But do not touch anything, and do not get separated from me – we may need to leave in a hurry. We’re docked as close to the control centre as I could get, but that’s no guarantee that we won’t get caught up in the general melee of panicking passengers. Is that all crystal clear?”

The Traveller opened the door connecting the ship to the rest of the universe, and he and his companions stepped into shrill, flashing amber chaos. Most of the people milling around wore uniforms, and the few present that did not looked a good deal more scared, and lost. The Traveller assessed the situation for a few moments, ever the quintessence of calm, then he picked a crew-member with the most gold on his sleeve, gently took that individual by the arm, and steered him closer.

“You need to take us to the command deck”, The Traveller told the man.

“I… I haven’t got the time”, spluttered the crewman, “and you should be in your cabins…!”

The Traveller tightened his grip, ever so slightly. “You don’t understand”, he said more firmly. “You need to take us to your superiors. Immediately. I am an authorised special operative of Dominion – and my associate here is a member of The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan.”

Talk of Dominion didn’t seem to get through to the officer, but the cogs definitely started turning as the conversation turned to The AGK. “Really?”, exclaimed the crewman. “I – stars and saviours! You… you’re Cloudmane!

The Traveller frowned. Cloudmane smiled back at him, in a way that may as well have shouted “I told you so.”

“This way, please!”, begged the officer. “The captain will take me down a stripe for breaking with emergency protocol, but it’ll be worth it – I am such a fan…!”

Irinati caught The Traveller’s eye as they filed in behind the officer, and started to carve their way through the turmoil, the infatuated crewman acting like a living ice-breaker. “Don’t”, the explorer told her, adamantly. “Don’t say it…”

The trio scarcely had time to speak, let alone take in their surroundings before they reached a heavy metal shutter, with reinforcing beams radiating from its centre, where a circular data-terminal was mounted, a shallow dome of polished glass surrounded by blinking lights. The crewman placed his hand on the screen, and the lights flashed through all the colours in existence until they all became green.

The great metal door slid up into the top of its foot-thick frame. From the chamber within, a single voice erupted. “What, by all the saviours, do you think you’re doing, Duoan?”, it bellowed. “This is no time for giving passengers ‘the grand tour’!”

“C-Captain Irodea…”, spluttered Duoan. “Sir, this – they aren’t just some tourists. This is…”

A presence loomed out of the darkness inside, a piece of blackness extending into the light in the shape of the head and some of the sinuous body of a huge snake. “…Cloudmane of The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan“, gasped the serpent. “Sir, please excuse…!”

“We don’t have time”, Cloudmane told the reptile. “My associate here is The Traveller, a well-respected agent of Dominion. It is vital that you give… her all she asks for – she is here to help you.”

“Help we most definitely need”, said Captain Irodea. “Please, Mistress Traveller, ask away!”

The Traveller winked over his shoulder at Cloudmane, and strode over to the control consoles. “First, let’s do something about your life support issues, Captain”, he said, “then we’ll get your propulsion systems back online – no point in flying home a ship full of corpses…!”

“Convergence”, murmured Irinati, looking at The Traveller going to work on the passenger liner’s problems, then looking up at Cloudmane, who stood ready to offer whatever assistance he could. “If this isn’t, I don’t know what is.

…o O o…

“Something’s wrong – the passenger ship appears to be regaining power.”

“How long until our quarry gets here?”

“Any time now, My Lady.”

“We need him to stay in the system long enough to bring him down to the surface. Do whatever you need to make sure the space-liner is as much of a burden as it can possibly be…”

…to be continued…