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Beyond The Brink, chapter 5

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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.



“Confirmed. Flux rope structure ID’d. She’s on her way.” Lilla nodded to Cullin. “Countdown begun. Catcher’s mitt at the ready.” 

Six months ago, after the memory of Marilyn gave Cullin his answer that night in the cryochamber, he immediately coordinated with the full Sigma space divisions to keep watch on the sun. As they waited for news, the team at Sigma Polar completely overhauled the Artifact Chamber one last time. Thick cabling connected it to the surface, now dotted with an array of solar panels and Cullin Capacitors. Invented as a byproduct of his rushed research to meet this new deadline, Cullin Capacitors and batteries were now being instituted across Sigma facilities the world over–the most efficient and effective energy delivery systems ever devised. Of course, Cullin didn’t broadcast how much of his breakthrough thinking arrived through analysis of the Artifacts and their advanced technology–a bootstrap from an advanced civilization. 

Not that it will matter much longer, came the whisper. 

For Cullin and his Whisperer, that breakthrough was merely a prologue to the main event. It was a recommissioned NASA STEREO satellite observatory that first detected the ICME–an interplanetary coronal mass ejection. This massive wave of plasma energy and magnetic flux, ejected by the chaotic engine of the sun, was headed for Earth. As he had once told Marilyn, a cosmic conflict would be briefly fought when the solar cloud met with Earth’s magnetosphere. They had two days’ notice as it traveled thousands of miles per second on an inevitable collision course with the planet.

And Cullin intended to harness the aftershock. On the night-side of Earth’s magnetosphere, they sent up the Dynamo Relay, a linked system of satellites carefully controlled from Polar like a conductor over their symphony. When the ICME hit Earth, the resulting geomagnetic storm would briefly shift the contours of their planet’s magnetosphere. Cullin’s Dynamo Relay stood ready on the side of the planet where those magnetic waves would break and crash back, unleashing a massive, singular burst of energy. 

The Dynamo would capture and channel this harvest through a series of reflectors and precise lasers, all the way back to the Sigma Polar pit–or, per Julian’s cheeky request, the mitt.

“Clive’s a big baseball guy. You should see him in the outfield.” 

Cullin tolerated the jokes, his smile being his best and last defense against any suspicion. As he envisioned that massive influx beaming down from the stars above, enhanced by the broader spectrum electromagnetic energy collected by the solar panels and Cullin Capacitors on the Arctic surface, his excitement made him tremble. 

Even the Whisperer couldn’t hide its anticipation, as the minutes now ticked down. This is an act of legend, Clive Cullin. One worthy of true glory. Even for a human.

The Key. The Suppressor. My foe, both minds thought. Tonight, you will break. 

“I’m going to check on Amara,” Lilla said as she stepped away from the control panel. “I’ll be back in time.” 

Cullin waved her off with a grunt. He couldn’t be distracted now. No one else was needed. By his hand alone would this great task be completed. As Lilla departed, Cullin kept watch on the other members of the Artifact team. Julian, Barclay, and their squadmates held a perimeter around the Artifact. Dr. Edgar Fletcher and his fellow xenoarchaeologists fretted about with the research drone they hoped to send through the keyhole should the process be successful. Even those less involved in the Artifact trials, from bioengineers to mess hall cooks, gathered at the observation deck–shielded by thick glass. 

The countdown ticked. Only ten minutes now. The night sky above was full of clouds, but Cullin knew that his cosmic storm approached all the same. “Ready capacitors.” A technician gave him the thumb’s up. “One last check on Dynamo positioning. Where’s Dr. Nassar? Lilla?” 

No response. Like that, the inner peace within Cullin shattered. 

She never came back, said the Whisperer. 

Cullin checked the readings himself. The Dynamo satellites were in position but their mirror relay atop the mitt was not. He would have to do her task for her. He clicked into the mitt’s interface to align the mirror system on the surface that would catch the flux laser and direct it downward upon the Suppressor. “Initializing…” 

The screen flashed red. The mirrors were out of sync–and not responding to his command. Cullin tried a system override. Another blast of red warning light. Alignment failed. “...we’ve been locked out of the system.”

His mind raced. The Whisperer focused him. Sabotage. 

No. Cullin couldn’t accept such an impossibility. It was beyond his design. He had done everything perfectly. This moment would not be taken away from him.

“Doc, what’s wrong?” Julian called out from down below. 

Cullin did not answer. He slowly stepped back from the console. Then he broke out into a dead sprint. “Stay on comms! I’m going to manually set the receptor mirrors!” 

Chaos. Voices shouted out, questioning, panicking–but Cullin shut it all away. He made it to the service elevator and slammed the button for the surface level. Cullin hurriedly disrobed from his Artifact Chamber clean suit and unhooked a ragged snow suit from a hanger–two sizes too big. He got it zipped right as the freeze of the surface world rushed to greet him.

Cullin and the Whisperer together: There’s still time. 

The elevator doors groaned open into the roaring Arctic wind. Cullin pushed forward, ignoring the sharp pain that the wind cut through his ragged suit. The darkness and snowfall made it impossible to see more than two feet ahead of him–but the blinking red light that marked the edge of the pit was visible. The countdown. One minute to go. The manual override. He could reset the reflectors from there. One step at a time, Cullin forced himself closer until his hands met metal. The control hatch. Already open. 

I told you, the Whisperer spoke. We’ve been blind! There’s someone here, someone already–

Something heavy smashed into the back of Cullin’s skull. He felt hot blood run down across his face and his body fell against the manual override. He gasped for air but all he got in return was ice. Hands shoved him over until he was face up on the ground. A figure, face hidden beneath an insulated mask. They wiped blood off the device in their hands–a sophisticated, homemade explosive. The figure pulled down their mask. 

“Lilla?! What…” Cullin gasped for breath. “What the hell are you doing?!”

“You think no one can see it. What you’re really doing. But I did, Clive. And before you die, I want you to know…Marilyn would’ve seen it too.” Lilla strapped the explosive to the manual override. “The monster you’ve become.” 

Cullin tried to speak but he found no words. So the Whisperer spoke for him, taking control of his voice, its alien vibrations rattling through his vocal chords. “What are you?! WHO DO YOU SERVE?!” The power of the Whisperer filled Cullin’s body with unnatural resolve. He shoved off the ground and tackled Lilla. It was the Whisperer who put his hands around her neck, who squeezed as hard as his body could. It wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. 

“I’m…not…a monster!” Spittle flecked and froze on Lilla’s face as Cullin strangled her–but there was no fear in her eyes. She grinned, even as her eyes began to shut. 

No time, Cullin. NOW!

He pulled himself up, using the override module to brace his aching body. He quickly tapped in the calibration that would link to the Dynamo Relay and catch the laser’s blast. The countdown proceeded. Ten, nine, eight…Cullin laughed, with desperate relief. However, when he turned back to Lilla–she was gone. Cullin spun, but it was too late. She fell upon him with a trained fighter’s skill. 

A kick to the ribs. Cullin toppled over as he felt one shatter, piercing something essential within. More blood. More heat. More ice. The countdown hit zero. The air around them was charged with electromagnetic influx. The sky seemed to glow, like something alive. The flash was upon them. Lilla and Cullin both turned away from the laser’s blast. It was done in a second. He heard the roar of the supplemental capacitors around them as they supplied more power. 

It’s working, Cullin! I feel it! The Suppressor weakens. My connection…to the other side…I FEEL THEM! I FEEL THEM! I FEEL–! 

Lilla dug out a detonator from her pocket. “I won’t let you destroy us all! I’ve rigged your capacitors to blow. It’s too late!”  

But then they both heard it–his voice, through the whine of the wind. “Clive?! Where are you?!” Julian. The hero, as always, to the rescue. 

“No…” Lilla muttered. Cullin saw it. The hesitation. The weakness. Love. But she was stronger than any such feeling. More dedicated to her goal than even Cullin. He made another move toward her, but Lilla hesitated no longer. Backlit with the glow of radiated solar energy, she activated the detonator. 

And then all was fire. 

Cullin felt the percussive force blast through him and everything went white. The ice beneath his feet dissipated and Cullin slid down a slurry that caved in behind him. He tried to open his eyes, but all remained dark. Buried. Caught between life and death. But that cold…a deep cold leaking through his charred snowsuit, seeping into his bones…

Another set of hands found him and pulled him free, lifting Cullin back into the light. The entire field of relays and capacitors was engulfed in flames. The mirrors melted. The timer was past zero. The energy gone. Dissipated. 

Lost, came the whisper. I’ve lost contact... 

“Clive, what happened?! Can you hear me?!” 

Julian. His savior. Cullin reached up and pulled away Julian’s insulated mask. He wanted to look him in the eyes. All of Cullin’s fury, shame, guilt, affection, despair…it all rushed out of him in just a few words–words that he hoped would break Julian’s stalwart heart. 

“Lilla. It was Lilla.” 



The cryo chamber is cold but Cullin still feels sweat pickling his forehead. 

“More years wasted,” Cullin speaks to Marilyn, still behind the clouded glass. “But she failed. We’re ready. Tonight…there will be no more delays.” He shuts his eyes and remembers them like they once were–young, vibrant, and made hopeful by their love. “Remember when we spoke about the sun? Precarious stability. It turns out entropy is on our side now. Like our planet, the sun grows restless. The last ICME cleared the path for another, stronger storm. A once-in-a-lifetime chance. A sign…that we will not be refused our destiny.” 

Three years. Over a thousand days, and countless hours, since Lilla’s betrayal. His body felt it. His pierced lung never fully recovered. His skin grew more sallow by the year. Yet Cullin never gave up. Following the sabotage, he seized full control of Sigma 6’s operation. The top brass were so frightened by the high-level infiltration of an enemy agent that they allowed full lockdown at Sigma Polar. No one in, no one out. This heartbroken family was trapped together, whether they liked it or not. 

Julian, of course, never accepted Cullin’s telling of it. His steadfast refusal to understand the mistake he made in loving Lilla…it disgusts Cullin to this day. It makes him despise the man he once called his friend. But now…he’s washed his hands of it. All of it. Humanity. 

“They launched the Exodus Armada last week, hoping to beat the magnetic storm,” Cullin tells Marilyn, as he keeps watch of the time. Fifteen minutes to go. “Of course, the press didn’t reveal the final passenger manifest. By the time the truth emerges…oh, what’s it matter anymore? Some went. Some remained. Even Swift couldn’t work up the courage to abandon the planet yet. Some of the top brass suspect him and some splinter faction of Sigma for the sabotage…but…”

Lilla’s final words to Cullin still haunt him. The monster you’ve become. He never speaks of such things here, with Marilyn. The cryochamber is their personal cathedral. A place of understanding. Forgiveness. Belief. “The things she knew…”

That she knew of me, speaks the Whisperer.

“You were right, Marilyn. Whatever the case was. That woman was desperately dedicated to something bigger than herself. But so am I. So are we. We are at humanity’s end. The powerful scatter or hide. Sigma frays from the inside out. But the two of us…we have a future. I’ve made sure of it.” 

The footsteps take him by surprise. No one should be in the bioengineering division, not this close to the test. So lost in the vision of the woman he loves, Cullin hadn’t even heard the door open. 

“Thought I’d find you here.” Julian steps beside Cullin. There is no warmth between them now. Julian spent all his time with Barclay and the team, or with Amara, now nearly ten years old. Cullin still finds the girl difficult, as willful as her father and opaque as her traitorous mother. Julian’s love for her, though, has only grown since Lilla’s death. He puts all of his hope in securing Amara a future. A future she will never know, Cullin thought. 

Julian reaches out to touch Marilyn’s glass. Cullin resists the urge to push him away. Instead, he studies Julian’s face. How much did he overhear? 

Walk away, Cullin, the Whisperer instructs. He will be a fossil of a fallen world soon.

Finally, Julian breaks the silence. “At least there’s a chance she’ll come back to you one day.” 

The soldier’s vulnerability startles Cullin. It almost stirs that old sense of friendship, long in hibernation. “Why do you think I’m doing any of this?”

Careful, Cullin… 

Julian gives Cullin a funny look. Like he might pursue some lingering doubt or question. Like he sees it too…whatever Lilla saw…but he lets it go. Julian’s instincts fail him. Pettier concerns crowd the mind of Cullin’s head of security. “I know you're confident in your system. But…this was a rush job. We know it. Everyone here knows it. Capacitors half patched. Don’t even get me started on the Chamber’s wiring–”

He knows the rumors. No one believes the second Stormgate attempt will be a success. Some even accuse Cullin of inviting further disaster. Of delusion. He knows how many of his formerly loyal team have sent in transfer requests. He knows that Julian has too. “I’ve taken it into consideration. We will follow the precise safety parameters as outlined in my briefing.”

“I only ask because…well, Clive, to be honest, you’ve been known to test the limits before. I know you’ve rushed to meet this storm–”

“Your lives are in my hands.” Cullin stated it like the fact that it was. “Do you trust me with them?”

Julian pauses again, measuring the challenge of Cullin’s tone. “I trust them in mine.”

“Good. As do I. At the first sign of danger, I call it off.” 

Julian nods. “Okay. Then let’s go.”

Based on what Cullin has told Julian, the second Stormgate attempt will be more cautious than the first. As the prelude of the solar storm’s energy drifts through the atmosphere, Sigma Polar’s capacitor array will capture and funnel as much energy as possible. Only if the transfer remains stable will an attempt be made to utilize the satellite reflectors. 

Cullin turns without another look at Marilyn and beckons Julian to follow. The soldier falls in line. No more words pass between them. Everything flows like water. Cullin and the rest who will be present in the Artifact Chamber don their clean suits. Stations are manned. Fletcher and the other xenoarchaeologists once more prepare their exploratory drone. The Aurora swirls and intensifies due to the high charge of electromagnetism in approach. 

Julian crosses the room to check on his team, placing a hand on Major Barclay’s shoulder. “So whatta ya think, Blockade? Red skies at night, sailor’s delight?” 

Barclay whistles at the sight. “Looks like a freshman’s field of vision on his first batch of ‘shrooms. Remember those days, Hawk?” 

As the tight pack of soldiers chuckle, Cullin swallows his distaste of the military juvenalia. In the wake of Lilla’s sabotage, the security forces at Sigma 6 had begun calling one another under call signs devised by Julian. He claimed it boosted team morale. Cullin could care less. Childish nicknames, dressed up in soldier’s garb.  

The Whisperer snickers within Cullin’s mind. Don’t be jealous, Cullin. A good war party should always be dressed for battle. 

Annoyance, jealousy, whatever it was…Cullin clears all of it from his senses. He wants to be in this moment, pure and unadulterated. 

“Major Barclay,” he instructs, ignoring the man’s preferred moniker. “Get topside. Keep your eyes on the Capacitor gauges.” Ever the good soldier, Barclay salutes and marches off–another piece removed from the board…

As the timer reaches ten minutes to spare, Cullin begins the final process. The Cullin Capacitors are activated. The team keeps careful watch of the fluctuating energy levels. 

“We’re at half efficiency so far,” Fletcher reports. “Dr. Cullin, I don’t know if our repairs to the array have been sufficient…”

Cullin just holds up a hand. Patience. Julian watches him like a hawk, but Cullin directs his focus upon the Suppressor. He pictures its destruction. He imagines the aftermath. He tries to dream up a portrait of the portal in his mind. 

Five minutes now until the storm passes through Earth’s magnetosphere. Cullin orders the energy flow increased from the capacitors above. Already sparks fly from the wiring that runs down the Chamber’s steep walls. He sees the members of his team tense and look away from it–but all avoid looking at him either. All except for one. Julian. 

He will not let you do this. You know it as well as I. You should’ve exiled him from this place as I told you to–! 

Enough. Cullin delivers the order as if it was he who was in command of his mind. You asked for me to open the path. I am a man of my word

More vibrations shake the Chamber. Cullin senses the growing anxiety. He places his hand upon the control panel…and shifts the power down. “Enough…” This, he speaks quietly–but all hear him. “It’s too dangerous.” 

The relief of all around him is palpable. Julian lets out a breath. He gives a solemn nod. “Thank you. Truly. One day, Clive. I promise. We still have time.”

Maybe you do. Not me. 

Cullin has allowed just enough time for Julian to call off his team. Yet Cullin still watches the countdown. He does not step down from his position. 

“Go on,” Cullin orders those around him. “I’d just like to stay and watch the sky.” He tries to keep his tone even. Calm. He play-acts one last time–Dr. Clive Cullin, the failure, the disappointment, the man who never quite finishes the job. Julian leaves the chamber to go be with his daughter, sparing one glance back over his shoulder. 

Three minutes. Two minutes. One to go. 

They await us, Cullin. I know it. Three years ago, they heard me. They rallied to my voice. As soon as the Suppressor falls…I will reach out again and fulfill my promise. Now, open the gate and let the Infernal Host storm across this world. 

With all attention off of him, Cullin reactivates the capacitor array. He takes sole command of the reflector controls. Slowly, some of the remaining scientists realize what is happening. They look at him, shocked, scared, lost. 

“Cullin! What are you doing, we’re not even in position!” Fletcher cowers from the trembling Key. The energy flow increases. The massive influx that pours through the Chamber wiring hums with hellish force. Above, the groan of the reflectors as they shift into position. “We can’t handle this!” 

“Change, Dr. Fletcher, arises only with risk. And imagination, isn’t that right? The time for patience is finally over.” Fifteen seconds. Others scramble to take control but he’s locked them out of the system. Sigma Polar is his domain now. “Tonight…we push beyond the limits of the known.”

His fellow scientists, shocked by his words, no longer know how to react. The system’s warning system blares. “SAFETY THRESHOLD EXCEEDED. SAFETY THRESHOLD EXCEEDED.” Emergency lights flash. 

“Clive! Goddamn it, answer me!” Julian’s voice flashes through on Cullin’s direct commlink–shouting, rushing, fighting like always to be the hero. With a simple click, though, the words of his old friend are silenced. 

Julian will not be the hero tonight. Tonight is Cullin’s moment. Even the Whisperer’s voice fades in his mind now. He has done it. He has lied to the world. He has pushed the discoveries of humanity past any previous boundary. He has cleared the path for a new beginning. 

Cullin picks up his clean suit’s helmet and puts it on, encasing himself in a pocket of silence. He enters mental auto-pilot as he works the holo-screens, unlocking the full potential of Sigma Polar’s array. 

Five, four, three, two, one…

All the while, he thinks of Marilyn. Their kiss, under the fading sun, back when they found hope in one another’s eyes. As Clive Cullin activates his satellite relay and channels the power of the sun itself down upon the Suppressor–as he presides over the ceremony that will end the world–he thinks of her. 

And then he closes his eyes and awaits the storm. 


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

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