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The Traveller: Sorrow Has The Swiftest Wings – Chapter 6

The control room of the Lo’Khang’Kar shook wildly. Slammed without warning against the underside of the engineering console, The Traveller spat a profanity, and shouted “Can you people not run into any more mines for just two minutes???”

“That was no mine”, responded Officer Duoan. “That was a main transfer conduit!”

Duoan went to one of the engineering data-screens. “I was afraid of that”, he gasped. “We have a breach in the starboard transfer interface, and plasma-fires on the board on decks five, six, seven…”

A heavy sigh came from under the engineering console. “Dear sweet Darkhawk, please, just one small blessing…”

The adventurer reached deeper into the “guts” of the space-liner’s computer systems, thankful for the infra-red option that was part of Mariella’s visual systems. Delving into the forest of wires and plastic tubing, he stretched for the interface housing that he hoped would contain the components he needed to modify – and his fingers fell short by maybe no more than an inch.

“And Mariella’s shorter than me”, he sighed. “By the height of the heels of a pair of Gucci boots – and her arms are just that little bit shorter than I’m used to…”

Darkhawk was, of course, absent – and it seemed that she was no longer hearing any prayers…

Guess I just have to make my own miracles, thought The Traveller. Now, where are those customisation menus…?

\ External Parameters…

=\ Limbs…

==\ Arms…

===\ Arm Length – Increase.

The Traveller felt the synthetic tissues of Mariella’s arm realigning themselves – it wasn’t a pleasant experience, but he suspected that being blown to melted pieces by a starship reactor overload would be far less comfortable. The interface housing came within reach, and popped open as he squeezed the sides of the plastic enclosure, inside which were the components he needed to modify…

Retreating back into the light with a handful of electronics, The Traveller felt something catch on a protruding metal fixture, and heard an unsettling tearing sound. And now Mariella is going to kill me, he thought, as he pulled his arm free and saw the rip in the sleeve of the jacket he had been “borrowing”. Well, it’s that or go boom…

The Traveller emerged from under the console. “Right”, he muttered. “Just a quick re-alignment of the magnetic matrices, and -”

The ship heaved backwards suddenly, bumping the back of The Traveller’s head against the edge of the control panel. “Just tell me that was a mine”, he growled – even though he was thankful that Mariella’s body could take a great deal more punishment than mere flesh and bone – “and not another conduit!”

“Neither”, responded Captain Irodea. “We appear to be caught in some kind of energy field – perhaps a towing beam. Possibly telekinetic in origin…!”

“It – it’s Doomstone“, gasped Duoan. “Confirmed on visual – he’s locked on to us, and he’s towing us clear of the mine-field, towards the third planet!”

“The plasma-fires on the upper decks are going out”, added the Captain. “He’s sealing off the ruptures.”

“Guess that’s me out of a job”, sighed The Traveller, getting to his borrowed feet. “Still, we could do with strengthening our hull integrity. Master Duoan, if you would be so kind…?”

Duoan stepped away from the engineering station, and The Traveller took his place, setting the open Omnisensor down close to the display screen. It was a simple matter to divert energy from the ship’s propulsion cores, now redundant while the Lo’Khang’Kar was in tow, then bleed off some of the energy that had caused the dangerous ruptures, channelling it into the field generators that helped to prevent the vessel flying apart at faster-than-light speeds. In seconds, the ship ceased its shuddering, and something approaching smooth flight was restored.

“I’d start getting people ready to evacuate, Captain”, recommended The Traveller. “We’ll still have plenty of work to do when we achieve orbit, and it’ll be a lot easier without passengers under our feet.”

“And there he is… Doomstone, in all his bejewelled splendour. Quite the catch…”

“My Lady? We may have a problem – the AGK appear to be in the process of neutralising the waste slick!”

“Already? Surely even Warpsinger couldn’t manage that.”

“Some kind of modified torpedo was employed, according to the scans from our remote sensor drone. They could be joining the rescue effort here in a few hours.”

“I’m going to the surface. Arrange for… something unexpected to bring the hero to me. Our time is running short…”

…o O o…

The Ula’Tora system…

Finally able to take a moment to get a seat away from the hustle and bustle, Jason still found himself unable to escape the present. “Orb, give me a sector overview”, he sighed as he flopped down in one of the more comfortable seats in the stand-by suite, below and to the rear of the command centre. “How are we doing?”

“Conversion of the waste matter is progressing ahead of predictions”, reported the ship’s computer-node as it hovered several feet above the table, projecting three-dimensional situation diagrams into the space between. “Containment is being maintained, and we will soon be able to recall the Bon Scott and The Black Arrow.”

“Shadowsnake and Sleek will be glad to hear that”, said the AGK leader. “And what about the Lo’Khang’Kar – how’s The Traveller doing?”

“The Lo’Khang’Kar is in a stable condition, with drive systems in safe mode and life support approaching nominal. Evacuation preparations are in progress – and Doomstone appears to be towing the vessel to safety. No loss of life has been recorded.”

“Guess they could use some help – maybe a telepath on the scene to calm the passengers”, said the hero. “Suppose I’m not really needed here, and I could be more help on the Lo’Khang’Kar…”

“Any excuse to get out there and meet this Doomstone character”, Suya intervened, from the door way.

“If we show our willingness to lend a hand, the more awkward business will hopefully go better”, he said to her as she walked over, and perched on the arm of his huge chair. “Care to come along?”

“I’d like to see how Cloudmane is doing”, his wife replied. “Irinati seems like such a nice girl, and they’re both doing each other the power of good.”

“Seems like Cloudmane knows what he’s doing, asking to go with The Traveller on what I’m assuming will be a longer term basis”, observed Jason. “He’s… he’s withering away here, let’s be totally honest…”

Suya leaned forward, and kissed Jason on the forehead. “It’s not healthy for anyone to scurry around in the shadows like a rat or something”, she said. “Time for him to spread his wings. He won’t find himself if he doesn’t get out there.”

With a nod, Jason rose from his chair. “Orb, prepare a shuttle for the two of us”, he instructed the ship’s command systems. “We’re going to assist the Lo’Khang’Kar. Inform Sleek that she’s in command for now – let her know when it’s okay to return to base, and have her bring the ship to the rescue zone as soon as possible.”

“Understood”, reported the floating computer node. “A shuttle is being prepared at Docking Bay Three, and your other instructions have been relayed to the relevant individuals…”

“Time to play hero?”, enquired Suya.

“We’re The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan“, he reminded her. “We don’t ‘play hero’ – we live it.

“Reading a launch from the AGK vessel – a shuttle-craft, heading for the Rekla’daath system – and our current location.”

“All right then – that’s the way it’s going to be. Alert me when the first escape craft are launched; it seems to be time to manufacture a little incident…”

…o O o…

On board the Lo’Khang’Kar

“The others… are coming”, Cloudmane said abruptly, talking to empty space. “Two, I think – it’s not entirely clear…”

The Traveller consulted the operations console in the control centre of the passenger liner. “That does indeed appear to be the case”, he observed. “A support craft has launched from the Pride Of Kraan II – I’d be very interested to discover how you knew, Master Derwent.”

“Some spiders strum on their webs to attract a mate”, the white-haired hero replied. “Now imagine an almost infinitely fine-mesh web, layer upon layer, extending beyond infinity. One touch makes it sing, and that ‘song’ is unique, for objects or creatures, depending on who they were – or are – and where.”

“I… I know that”, murmured Irinati. “And the threads of the web… converge. They have to, to retain their structure, their very existence…”

“Remarkable”, murmured The Traveller. “You absolutely must tell me more – it could change how we find shards…”

For a moment, Cloudmane looked anxious. Finding the shards meant that Irinati would be restored, and there was no guarantee that his connection to her, and its effect on him, would continue. The Traveller was fully aware of that, and tried to steer the conversation away from such things, although his scientific mind was overflowing with questions that could very easily keep such thoughts bubbling away.

“Master Derwent, I think you should be assisting the evacuees. Your abilities…”

“I don’t know for certain what my abilities are now”, the hero replied. “All that I was before, I was born with, and it doesn’t appear that the abilities I had came with me when I was ‘reborn’. i think I have some link to the magical realm which manifests itself when I absolutely need it, but other than that, I can’t say. It could be that whatever powers I have are too dangerous to use with so many people around.”

“Your ability to sense this… web, it doesn’t seem like something that would just come into being in isolation”, pondered The Traveller. “You’d think it would be associated with some other power – if you can feel what must be the underlying structure of reality in such detail, then perhaps you can… manipulate that structure as well.”

“Like Suya?”, suggested Cloudmane.

“Right now, I can’t possibly say”, The Traveller began, but the conversation was cut short by Captain Irodea, his sinuous shadow falling over the trio.

“We’re launching the first of the evacuation shuttles”, he announced. “We’re not in orbit yet, but this area of space is safe enough, and there’s no point in keeping our hatchlings in the nest any longer then necessary.”

“Absolutely”, agreed The Traveller. “The less we have to worry about on board, the quicker we can get your repairs underway.”

“And not a moment too soon”, sighed Irodea. “Praise the saviours, and whatever eternal wisdom inspired them to cause you and Doomstone to cross our path.”

The Traveller smiled as best he could. He very much doubted that some “higher power” had subtly intervened, “blowing” into the “sails” of The Endless Sunrise and the Pride Of Kraan II. He wasn’t the only one to feel that way, as he saw when he looked over to Cloudmane, and saw a new expression on his face; a look of suspicion.

“The passenger ship is commencing evacuation, My Lady. Awaiting your instructions.”

“I’ll deal with this. Let’s allow the first shuttles to land safely – we don’t want anyone to get suspicious…”

“It’s the AGK, isn’t it? You want them to show up – don’t you?”

“I need to test them. I need to test myself. If I can’t… what use am I?”

“Just be done before the rest of them arrive. Do not forget that we have a mission to complete – and I’ll finish the job if you can’t!!

“And that, dearest, is the whole idea…

…o O o…

Just outside of the atmosphere of Rekla’daath III, Doomstone hovered like a hawk, watching the shuttles descend towards their designated landing points, outside one of the few centres of habitation on an otherwise desolate planet. All seemed to be going well, but the hero knew not to take success for granted – and he already felt that something was not quite…

“Shuttle Two-Seven to all stations – we have an emergency! We have lost all power…!”

Doomstone didn’t need to “hear” any more. He dived into the atmosphere, energy shield glowing fiercely with the friction of re-entry – below, a shuttle was in free-fall, and no-one else could help the several dozen people on board…

“Good. Come to Mother…”

…o O o…

On board the Lo’Khang’Kar

There was the harsh squeal and shriek of metal being compressed. The Traveller looked around, and saw that one of the vertical metal supports that made up the shelf units supporting the view-screens had become crushed under Cloudmane’s fingers like wet clay.

“We have to go”, said the hero, urgently, almost fearfully. “Down to the planet – now!

Irinati looked at him, too, then at The Traveller. She didn’t need to say the word the adventurer expected to hear.

“Go”, said the serpentine Captain. “We’ll be all tight. Help the passengers!”

The Traveller, Cloudmane and Irinati ran for the door, and as they rushed out into the corridor, Jason’s voice could be heard on an open comm-channel: “Lo’Khang’Kar, this is The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan – Shuttle Two-Seven, we are on our way to assist…!”

“I am… trusting that you’ve… sensed something significant, Master Derwent!”, said The Traveller as he hurried from control panel to control panel, preparing The Endless Sunrise for flight.

“Events – and beings – converge on this moment”, replied the hero. “I… I see threads end. They end, and I feel my heart… breaking.

“Well, let’s do something about that”, The Traveller said sternly – and flipped a switch.

…o O o…

Entering the atmosphere of Rekla’daath III…

A door hissed open behind Suya, and the heroine almost jumped out of her skin. “Sorry to intrude”, said The Traveller, stepping into the shuttle’s flight deck, with Irinati and Cloudmane close behind, “but your brother-in-law was rather insistent that we should join you…”

“That’s very nice”, said Jason, from the pilot’s seat, “but unfortunately cabin service has been suspended until we stop this escape shuttle from ploughing into the ground…!

Through the cockpit window, the stricken shuttle could be seen, smoke streaming from its tail, plunging through thick white cloud. Close to it flew a figure in a close-fitting body-suit, features completely obscured by a mask, blade-like shards of glittering crystal attached to his forearms and chest…

“Doomstone”, murmured The Traveller as the flying figure emitted a dazzling aura that enclosed the damaged escape ship, and immediately slowed its descent.

“Convergence”, gasped Irinati, as she always did when what were essentially shards of herself almost within reach; the very shards that were giving Doomstone the power to save the escaping passengers…

The Traveller flipped open the Omnisensor. “Odd – it appears that a foreign object has been introduced into the escape craft’s drive system – and when I say ‘introduced’, I mean rather intimately, as in fused together at the subatomic level.”

“Something I can undo?”, offered Suya.

“Possibly – if you knew the precise condition of both engines and foreign object the exact moment before they became one”, the explorer replied. “We’d probably gain more by analysing what’s happened rather than by trying to undo it – and hopefully, our friend Doomstone can set the shuttle down in good enough condition for us to learn something from it.”

“I’d say you shouldn’t have to worry about that”, remarked Jason. “Our ‘local hero’ seems to take pride in his work – buy why so anxious to study the shuttle? It sounds like you have… doubts…”

“I do”, replied The Traveller. “Too much of this seems just too convenient.

“A trap?”, asked Jason.

“Follow him down, but stay back”, advised the Dominion agent. “Make it look like you’re staying at a safe distance, in case of a core malfunction on board the shuttle…”

Doomstone carried his shuttle down between two jagged mountain peaks, into a shallow valley lined with simple, box-like buildings – a former mining facility now used by the nearest town for waste reclamation. Large open space were available, previously used as landing pads by interplanetary cargo ships, and several of those were already occupied by shuttles from the Lo’Khang’Kar, giving Doomstone limited choice for where he could set down his damaged, and potentially hazardous burden.

Yes, thought The Traveller, I could be overreacting – but what precedent is there for that?

The Omnisensor showed nothing unusual. None of the crew of the AGK shuttle seemed to have sensed anything out of the ordinary, and three of them had senses going well beyond anything possessed by “regular folk”, but still, there were Cloudmane’s earlier, ominous words: “…threads end… I feel my heart breaking” – and Mister White’s warning about an assassin…

The AGK shuttle swept through the gap in the mountains. Four escape craft had already touched down, two of those now unloading passengers, and a fifth was being gently lowered to the ground on writing strands of glowing vapour, the visible manifestation of Doomstone’s power. “Guess we better go introduce ourselves”, said Jason, steering the AGK ship to its own landing zone, not too far from the rescued craft. “Everyone stay alert – I get the feeling The Traveller may be on to something.”

The husband and wife heroes stepped down onto the dusty landing pad first, Jason in his close-fitting suits of simulated leather “armour”, designed to convert raw psionic power into energy for a variety of different effects, whilst Suya presented the image of a butterfly, a cape of tie-dyed silk, attached to the neck and waist of her sky-blue sleeveless and short-legged “almost-swimsuit”, becoming ornamental “wings” as the ends fastened onto golden bangles around her white gloved wrists, Usually, such a public arrival would have merited cheers from an adoring crowd, but for now, people were too busy being thankful they were alive.

“Master Doomstone”, called out Jason as they approached the masked man. “Good day to you…”

Doomstone turned towards the source of the greeting…

Suya grabbed Jason’s hand, and he stopped. His wife suddenly looked deeply anxious…

Doomstone took a step towards them, then stumbled. He did not fall, for the twelve-foot beam of rusty metal that now passed through his head and right shoulder had pinned him in place like a poorly mounted specimen in a child’s insect collection, the end of the metal buried – fused – into the reinforced concrete of the landing pad.

A great gust of wind tore through the group of heroes, and all but one of them fell. Suya did not, for she was gone.

Immediately, Jason scanned around telepathically for his wife, and he quickly found her, on a fang-like outcropping of rock, jutting out of the wall of the canyon. Suya was not alone – she dangled, struggling, in the grip of a hand closed firmly about her throat. A hand in a leather glove, attached to an arm contained within the sleeve of a hip-length leather jacket that also enclosed a muscular female torso…

“The shards”, growled the woman. “Give them to me, and this… pretty butterfly doesn’t get her wings plucked…”

Jason glared into the face of Suya’s captor… and the bottom fell out of his world. He knew this woman – knew her and had never imagined he would ever see her again. He was looking into the face of Lady Sable Derwent of Earth. His mother.

His dead mother…

…to be concluded.

TRAV101-06