The Gates of Delirium, Part 7

Characters: Cat Rosha, Storm Squadron

Cat got chills down her spine as they sat in the eerie silence. The Thunderbolt stopped shaking. The turbulence was replaced by harmless infrared, a warmth that only their sensors could detect.

“No more dangerous radiation,” Rashid confirmed, then gasped.

Cat sighed at the radiation being harmless, but jumped when Rashid gasped.

“Storm One, are you seeing what we’re seeing?” Lazaret’s voice came across the comm, sounding every bit as thunderstruck as Rashid who could be heard over the comm, murmuring a chain of Afghani and Arabic.

“I don’t know, I thought I was dreaming for a second,” Cat replied to Lazaret.

Their screens homed in on the slice of light they had seen before. A subtle haze was obscuring an otherwise blinding stellar body. Magnification and spectroanalysis revealed what was forming that haze. Scanner pings described not particles, but curved planes hundreds of miles across. They were collecting solar energy on one side, dispersing waste heat from their edges. It wasn’t a haze. It was a swarm.

“Sure explains why we couldn’t see this system’s primary,” Kriechbaum said. “They’re building a Dyson sphere around it! I don’t know if even the Vorlons could do that …”

Cat looked amazed. “I believe they could, but I’m not sure if it would be like that.”

“Cat, I’ve got the readings solid,” Rashid said. “We’d better get out of here before they spot us. If they can build something like that, they can probably see through the Blacklights if they want to.”

“I agree. Kriechbaum, we need to get out of here now. Finish your readings and follow,” Cat said over the com.

“Right with ya, boss,” Kriechbaum answered.

A blip appeared on their long-range scanners, blinking red. “I think it’s time to hit the afterburners, Cat,” Rashid said.

“OK, let’s disappear out of here quickly. Starting to go forward.” Cat moved the ship forward quickly, back into the termination shock, faster than before.

The Thunderbolts punched through the invisible edge of the system, out among the stars that showed the way home.

Rashid scanned to see if the aliens were following, praying that they weren’t. When the shape appeared on the readout, it inspired a hard lump in the throat — a long box, a prong of four rods at each end like claws made of barbed wire. It stood motionless, near the Dyson cloud.

“Is it following us, Rashid?” Cat asked, turning her attention to the sky ahead.

“Still not moving,” Rashid sighed. “Either they didn’t quite ID us, or they decided we weren’t worth following.”

“It seems to want to protect the area more than chase us. At least it isn’t following.”

The trip back seemed far quicker than the trip out — a fact which had little to do with the Thunderbolts’ velocity. The elegant blue and grey lines of the Phoenix were soon in sight.

“This is ISA Phoenix,” came the voice over the fighter comm. “You’re on our screens. Please confirm your ID.”

“This is Cat Rosha, Rashid, Kriechbaum, and Lazaret. Returning from recon mission.”

“We copy, Storm One. You’re cleared for docking. Glad to see you back!”

“And you’re not gonna believe what we got,” Kriechbaum said.