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Beyond The Brink, Chapter 3

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2024 Frost Giant Studios All rights reserved. No part of this novella may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles, reviews, wikis, and other Stormgate player resources. Stormgate and the Stormgate logo are trademarks of Frost Giant Studios, Inc. Published by Frost Giant Studios, Inc.


The mist cleared on the Salish Sea but there were no more whales to see–just slate gray waters on the rise.

“I miss when I could watch the orca migrations. Those days are lost to us now.”

Preston Swift finally joined Cullin on the expansive porch of his private hideaway. Cullin had been waiting for hours.

“Sorry to have kept you, Dr. Cullin. My presence is often requested for meetings regarding the Armada. I’m sure you understand the pace of Sigma work all too well.”

Cullin wasn’t sure how to respond. Preston had yet to look him in the eye, but seemed occupied with the far horizon. “Certainly. Although I’ve never built an interstellar fleet.”

Preston sighed as he leaned against the railing. “I had hoped to have the factory here. To see the rockets as they’re made, right before my eyes…”

“I saw some of the work being done at Central. The vessels are incredible. As it stands, there’s no Sigma project more important to humanity’s future.” Cullin said the words, even though he felt like one of Sigma’s propaganda videos.

Finally, Preston looked at Cullin, like he was studying him. “That might have been true once. Not anymore.” Preston turned away from the water and waved for Cullin to follow him inside without another word.

Preston Swift’s home was all Scandinavian wood and black matte metal. To Cullin’s eye, it barely seemed like a human being lived within it. Preston moved through it like a ghost, smooth and certain to avoid contact with the few priceless objects artfully arranged on pedestals. A museum, Cullin thought. A museum dedicated to the history of one man’s obsession.

On the mag-lev ride up north, Cullin read up on Preston Swift’s file, compiled by Marilyn before she fell ill. He was an angel investor whose original wealth came from mysterious sources. An inventor who claimed his inspirations arose from strange messages from another world. Many did not want to take him seriously but his results always spoke for themselves. And he did it all from here, this remote location in the Pacific Northwest. As far as anyone knew, he had not left in decades.

Preston laid his hand upon what appeared to be just another wood panel wall–but it slid open in response. A staircase led down into a stark metal hall. It felt cold and smelled like one of those brand-new, high-end refrigerators. Cullin tried not to shiver.

“This was uncovered in South Africa, found buried beneath the Cape Flats during Sigma’s revitalization efforts. Luckily, I was able to get to it early. Few know of its existence. Welcome to the club.”

They stepped into a barren room and the lights blasted on. There was another pedestal here, with a sealed glass chamber atop it. Levitating within, a chunk of metal ore that resembled a small meteorite.

“Take a closer look.”

Cullin stepped forward. Hidden within the ridges of the ancient rock, he spotted what could only be glyphs. He leaned in to take a closer look when–the object vanished. Or did it? As soon as Cullin thought it was gone, it was back. Then it happened again. It flickered, in and out of existence, like a glitched asset in some virtual world. But no, this was reality. Right before his eyes.

“It’s more stable than I first thought,” Preston said gravely. “But you’re really seeing it. Superposition in visible action. The object’s engaged in some sort of quantum flux, entangled with another location in spacetime.”

All of Cullin’s years of quantum studies returned to him with ease. One object, held in two or more states of time and space, simultaneously. Until now, mostly a theory, invisible to the human eye. “It seems…ancient. What have you determined on its age?”

“It’s a veritable fossil. Thousands of years old. But the glyphs, the chemical composition…that Artifact within the rock is not human in origin.”

Cullin couldn’t help himself–he laughed. “Alien.” When he turned back to Preston, the billionaire was pale. Cullin realized. He’s terrified.

“I always thought…they were calling to me. Urging me to find them, out there in the stars. But they’ve been here all along. Beneath the earth…flickering like ghosts. Since I acquired the Artifact, I can’t sleep. I’ve never been a good sleeper but now…it’s like I’ve been consumed. With fear.”

“Fear of what?”

Preston tried to hide his own embarrassment. “I have this…feeling. That the real threat…it isn’t from our looming future. But from our past.”

Cullin walked in a circle around the pedestal, taking in each angle of the Artifact. “You think there are more of these out there.”

“I…know it. I can’t explain how. People don’t believe me, but this…intuition of mine. It’s never wrong.”

“And what does this have to do with me, Mr. Swift?”

“I want to bring you out of retirement. I want you to lead the team to track these down. A secret program. Sigma 6. Designed however you choose. Doing whatever it takes…to find out where these are from. And where they’re leading us.”

It all suddenly came to Cullin in a wave. If this phenomenon was real, if it could be studied… “The Exodus Armada would be obsolete. You’re suggesting that the study of this object could lead to an advance in quantum teleportation. An escape hatch from Earth.”

Preston approached Cullin and the Artifact. “Whatever species left this object behind…we need to know where they came from. And where they went."

The grooves of the Artifact spoke to Cullin of a great intelligence…a high culture. A worthy one. “Perhaps, Mr. Swift…your fears are unwarranted. Perhaps…our past shall actually be our salvation.” He extended his hand. “I accept.”

As Preston gripped it, Cullin felt a shudder–for only an instant–but it was there. Like a sudden rush of static electricity between them. When their hands broke away, Preston Swift, the mighty billionaire, suddenly looked like a shadow of his former self. The meeting was over. Preston’s small team escorted Cullin out to the helicopter pad. Preston swore that no expense would be spared. The Sigma 6 project under Dr. Clive Cullin was to begin immediately.

As the chopper took off, Cullin felt giddy. He couldn’t wait to tell Marilyn how right she had been. Their lives were far from over.

However, when Cullin’s mag-lev arrived back at Central, her former hospital room was empty. A doctor was waiting for him. Everything after that became white noise, and Cullin only caught fragments. A never-before-seen virus. Spread from the melting ice caps. A contained outbreak at Central. Marilyn, one of the victims.



Cullin tossed about in the emotional turbulence and only came to hours later, in a dark, quarantined room. The beep of Marilyn’s machines timed with his own beating heart. He could barely see her face beneath the breathing apparatus that kept her in this purgatorial state. They could not celebrate his new lease on life. They would not share another adventure. In his mind, Cullin was now far beyond the Brink–the world was over. She was here, physically…but she was gone. Like that alien artifact. An impossible thing to ever truly reconcile.


The voice arose like static from the void, before slowly cohering. Feminine, but low in register. Coarse, as if the Whisperer who spoke the words had not uttered a phrase in a long, long time.

This is merely the beginning, Dr. Cullin.

His mind cracked. The only explanation. Onset insanity. But then the Whisperer’s spooky, intimate voice returned. You are here for a reason. You and Marilyn both.

It was crazy…it was madness…but Clive responded to the voice within his own mind, seeing no other choice in the matter. Why? Why is any of this happening?

Silence. But then the Whisperer spoke once more. Let me show you.


The humidity of the Amazon was oppressive but the team surged with energy. Cullin observed from the shade beneath his small, shabby tent as his Sigma 6 scientists established their latest base camp.

This was the third Sigma 6 dig in the last year. Cullin moved fast to keep his grief at bay. The Whisperer helped. It was this voice that led him first to the Canadian wilderness, and then to Mexico–each the site of ancient human societies…and the burial grounds for more alien artifacts. So far, there was no sample the size of the Salish object, but there was no denying that Sigma 6 was onto something. Seven thousand years ago, according to their early carbon dating, an alien civilization came to Earth and a great conflict ensued. Whatever happened, it was now the foundation of Cullin’s field of xenoarchaeology.

But without a more promising discovery, this new field’s financial support was at risk. Late one night, Preston phoned in from his hideaway on the Salish Sea. “I have it. Our best chance yet. The land is under purview of the Allied States of the Southern Hemisphere, but I’ve managed to cut a direct deal with their Minister of Culture.” There were rumors spreading of a major find, deep in the Amazon. When unseasonal flooding washed away an entire cliff face, what lay buried spilled forth. “You won’t believe it, Clive. But they’re calling it a temple.”

Cullin hadn’t believed it until his small scouting party arrived under escort from leery soldiers of the Allied States. What was once a cliff overlooking a patch of jungle was now a yawning maw of mud and shattered rock. Its collapse was spread across the clearing below, still wet to the touch. Perhaps it had once been a hidden temple, but now it was rack and ruin.

You see that? Like the remains of a statue there, Cullin mused as he walked through the wreckage. The Whisperer provided no response. This is ancient architecture. It all seems to line up, but--

His thoughts were cut short when he stumbled upon something still half-submerged in the mud. Cullin knelt and carefully brushed away what detritus he could…and saw it. Carved into the rock of what must have once been a temple wall…a glyph. The same ornate style as the one that adorned Preston’s Artifact in his Pacific Northwest fortress. He carefully reached out a finger and brushed against its surface. Solid. Not involved in any sort of quantum flux. But it was undeniably the same species of symbology.

What was this place?

Not just detritus, the Whisperer answered. This…was a place of great importance. A protected place.

While the truth remained opaque, this lead was enough for Cullin. More importantly, it was enough for Preston Swift. Funds were mobilized, a larger team permitted, and the Amazon dig kicked into motion. Whatever this temple was, whatever it held, Cullin was tasked with uncovering it.

Now, Cullin watched as the imposing Major Barclay crossed the field, headed for Cullin’s tent. “Parameters established,” the soldier assured Cullin. “Let’s get diggin’.”

It was Cullin’s request that the Sigma 6 team assemble their own security force, as he did not trust the suspicious eyes of the Allied States. Barclay was one member of that highly vetted team. The chop of helicopter blades that cut through the buzz of rainforest insects heralded the arrival of its new leader. Barclay grinned. “Right on time.”

Here comes your hero, spoke the Whisperer. Let’s hope you’ve chosen right.

Cullin’s heart skipped a beat as the helicopter set down and his old friend Julian Nassar emerged. He hadn’t seen him since before Marilyn’s sickness…a time that felt like another life. Julian had a new life too, and they followed him out of the helicopter: Lilla and a one-year-old girl, buzzing with energy and already on her feet despite her young age.

Amara. He only knew of her from the scant e-missives from Julian allowed through Sigma’s airtight security protocol in the last few years. “There is he–the Chief himself,” Barclay laughed as he shook Julian’s hand and escorted them all to Cullin’s tent. Cullin worried about what he would even say to these faces from the past.

Julian, as usual, took care of it for him. He pulled Cullin to his feet and into a bear hug. “Thanks for the invite, doc.” The two backed up and took each other in. Julian seemed even more vibrant than before, while Cullin knew he had faded–his hair took on more white by the day and his hairline continued its retreat.

“Thank Major Barclay. It took me a while to realize you knew each other.”

Barclay squatted down next to the young Amara, cooing over her. Julian ushered Cullin over to take a look for himself. Her fierce hazel eyes turned up to Cullin. He couldn’t look away.

Incredible, how vulnerable you all begin, spoke the Whisperer.

What’s incredible, Cullin thought, is how vulnerable we remain for the duration.

“Clive…we’re so sorry. About Marilyn.” Lilla’s tone contained a gentleness that Cullin did not remember hearing from her before, and it all became too much. Amara studied his face. He felt like the young girl could somehow sense this struggle within him…but then she slipped her hand out of Lilla’s grasp and took off across the field, yipping with glee.

“Excuse me,” Lilla spouted as she rushed off after her daughter.

Julian could only laugh. “Don’t take it personally. That’s an everyday occurrence. But seriously, Clive. When I heard…if we could have only been with you both…”

Cullin turned away to hide the look of despair on his face. “She’s not dead. And this is all Marilyn’s doing. I’m just the follow through. Get settled in. Meet the team. Tomorrow, the real work begins.”

With that, Cullin walked away from the people he once called friends and shut the flaps of his tent. He waited until he heard their voices fade and let the tears come.

Do not waver, the Whisperer’s voice arose. Find the gate. Open the path.


It took time for Cullin to accept the truth. The Whisperer was no figment of his imagination. It was not some subconscious voice brought about through the stress of Marilyn’s coma. It was not a hallucination of insanity set off by the Brink.

The Whisperer was an entity, with a will of its own. There is no use arguing against my presence, Clive Cullin. I have made my choice. You are my choice.

At first, Cullin tried to suppress the voice. Pills, alcohol, meditation…none of it worked. Whether he liked it or not, his mind was now occupied territory.

In those first weeks after Marilyn was lost to him, Cullin had little strength left to fight. So he gave in. He let the Whisperer be his guide–and it unveiled to him knowledge hidden from the world. First, go north. The land your people call Canada. There you will find your first success.

When Cullin’s early Sigma 6 recruits did indeed excavate a field full of small alien fragments, all experiencing that same uncanny quantum state, he denied it no further.

You’re one of them, aren’t you? Speaking to me from beyond?

Not beyond. I am stuck here, on this dying world, just like you. But that is why we have no time left to waste.

As the months went by, and Sigma 6’s capacities grew, Cullin slowly pieced together the Whisperer’s history. Much like the other Artifacts, it was a quantum phenomenon–but a psychic one too. The Whisperer was merely a piece of a much larger whole somewhere out there in the universe…and it desperately needed to reconnect. For centuries, the Whisperer had drifted from host to host, a silent witness to all of human history.

It was left wanting.

So fragile. Petty. Many times I thought your species might rise to meet its potential…only for you to fall back again. You are trapped in a cycle of failure. You reach out for the future, only to deliver more suffering to those you spawn. This planet…it is cursed. It is doomed.

Despite himself, Cullin found little with which to disagree. The two of them stayed up late into the night, arguing and debating the finer points–but the truth was clear. Even if Cullin and Sigma 6 provided a miracle…how long would it take for the human species to invent its next destroyer?

Any trace of hope for humanity vanished when the Whisperer told him what it had learned during its stay within the mind of Preston Swift.

Swift was nothing but a vessel. Already unstable, I had to remain quiet. Let his ego believe that he was special. It gave me access to the darkest corners of your oh-so-worshiped Sigma initiative…

The Exodus Armada was built on a lie. While the population of the world believed that the seats would be equitably distributed through a lottery system, the truth was that the Sigma top brass and their most powerful backers had already begun auctioning off slots to the highest bidder. By the time the lottery even came about, the results would be rigged.

Your species speaks as if it always operates for the good of all…but your society is a lie. You are nothing but self-interested fools, scraping for petty status and individual survival.

Of course, Cullin thought. I felt it even in my youth and spent my whole life denying it…even Marilyn was blind to it. He had proof of it from his failed MEGenome project–what neither he nor Marilyn ever wanted to admit to one another. There’s just something within us…encoded into our very DNA…that’s broken.

But the Whisperer offered a different path.

Seven months into the Amazon dig, they finally found something more significant than a fragment. Beneath two collapsed walls of what was once a ceremonial chamber, the team–cautious but excited–dug out a space around this new Artifact. They slowly revealed the edges of what appeared to be an imposing metallic object. During a celebratory bonfire banquet, as indulgent as the jungle could allow, Julian raised a toast to Cullin–and beckoned him to speak with his team. It was time, Julian said, to understand the greater vision. “We’re all getting restless, doc. Give us some hope.”

Cullin tried not to sneer, surprised by the flare of hate in his heart at that word. Hope. When the crowd quieted, Cullin began. “I appreciate that all of you have worked so tirelessly to uncover the hidden truths of our past.”

The buried lies.

“Our work touches on a subject that is difficult to understand, let alone study. But here is the truth as I know it–Sigma 6 is the most important project in the world. These Artifacts prove that an advanced alien race once came to Earth…and they left something behind for us.”

Carnage. A lost war.

“I believe it is a path, clues to help us access their world. I believe that this species wants to lead us there, to save us from the worst demons of our nature.”

A gate, one that will open and allow us to overrun your backwater planet. To redeem it. Forge it stronger. Make it worthy.

“So let us continue this work. Let us untangle the mysteries of the quantum world. Let us uncover this path to salvation and find a true refuge for our species.”

You are nothing but an ordinary race, unable to stand against the problems of your own nature. But my people…we will take the best of you…and make you extraordinary.

Cullin’s speech had a rapturous effect. The voices of Sigma 6 echoed throughout the jungle, and reverberated with the voices of the past civilizations of the Earth. Hope, delivered.

But Cullin had hope for one thing and one thing alone. The hope given to him by the Whisperer.

You are my chosen one, Clive Cullin. Open the gate, and I will bring her cure to you.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5

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