“What's our status Ari?” Gem asked as Ari walked in from the cockpit of the two room ship.
“We're about ten minutes from the pirate sector. Stealth systems are engaged, and scans have been reduced to cover immediate flanks. We got three sector ships ready to hyper jump into the sector the moment we're ready to extract the prisoners.”
A knot in my stomach became tighter at the realization of how close we were to our destination. It seemed like only moments ago when I sat in my room, packing my bags back on Haalm as my mother went down a checklist of things to make sure I was prepared. It was easier to steel myself then, but the closer I got, the more anxiety rose.
Calm the gits, Lyla. You got this.
“Alright,” Gem called out, “let's go over the plan one last time.”
I diverted my eyes to the series of projections he laid out, as Tank began reciting for the third time the layout of the plan.
“Phase one. Upon entering the system, we advance to the northern breaching point of the base, located here. Gem and Judo will use the drill to breach the hull, and enter the ship which should bring them to the bases weapon control. At the same time, Lyles and me will be breaching from the eastern point here.
Phase two. Wait for Judo to hack the weapon controls, and when the alarm goes off, use the distraction to infiltrate the eastern hull, and start sweeping to the southern segment of the base. Gem will sweep in from the west, while Judo places traps to cover the trail. Breach the southern hull to stall them, before making your way down into the cargo hold where the prisoners should be.
Phase three. Judo will make his way to the docking terminal, which should be located on the third floor on the cargo hold. While he ensures their ship's can't take off, sweep the area and locate the prisoners. Once you've located the prisoners and suppressed any hostiles near the docking bay, send the signal, and the sector ships will move in for extraction. The Academy didn't specify whether to use lethal or non-lethal methods, so that choice is up to you, as long as you ensure this op remains covert. Any questions?”
I took a few shaky breaths, knowing that even the slightest mistake could mean the difference between success and failure. When I'd first heard the plan, it seemed simple, but now it felt like it was impossible to keep track of the directions and possibilities. Apart of me wanted to blurt out all the doubts I had.
What do we do if intel is wrong? What if they don't take the heat? What if the oxygen tank breaks the moment I land, and when Ari goes off, I suffocate to death? Dammit, snap out of it Lyla.
Improvise. That was the solution to everything. Apart of being one of the best, meant that you had to be good at thinking in the heat of the moment. And that required my absolute focus.
And it seemed like just as I'd stilled myself on that realization, we'd entered into the sector, causing my heart to relapse back into its racing days.
A large bronze-metallic base formed a blocky diamond with two smooth glass rings circling through its interior. All appeared quiet as we moved through the sector. In fact, as I looked out, there were no ships around.
“Where the hell is all the company?” Judo asked.
The silence he was greeted with must have meant that everyone was thinking the same thing. Strange that a pirate base would have no ships patrolling, especially this close to base.
Did they detect us coming? Was it a trap? No, even if they'd had level 4 scanners to detect fully cloaked ships, they still wouldn't be able to detect us because we encrypted our signal to resemble one of their ships. And even then, you don't just leave a base's scanners to fend for itself.
“Play it safe. Keep the stealth drives engaged just in case they're baiting us.” Gem broke in.
“They could have an occultist projecting a detection field.” Judo suggested.
“Doesn't matter. We're sticking with the plan. We need to disable the weapon controls so they can't use their weapons on the transports, and when they see our first landing, it will still act as a divergent. Judo, we're going in hot. I'd rather be safe than sorry. Tank, if we aren't there by the time you and Lyles breach the southern segment, make the descent without us. It means we're holding them off so they can't get to you. Ari, if that happens, then you'll need to swing the ship around to the docking bay and hit anything that tries to take off until Judo can get down there. Our main priority is getting the prisoners off of the ship. We'll deal with the rest when it comes.”
Gem grabbed his bag as Ari closed in on the first breaching point.
“You're cleared to jump,” she yelled out as she opened the doors.
“Catch you on the other side,” Judo yelled back, throwing her a grin and a peace sign as he and Gem dove out onto the surface below. The doors closed as the ship pulled up to make rounds to the next breaching point.
“Jackass,” she mumbled. I took a shaky sigh as Tank and I stood by the doors, awaiting our turn to make our descent.
“A little anxious,” I responded a bit too quickly. Tank patted me on the back as he chuckled to himself, which looked more like a snarl coming from him.
“Don't overthink everything. Just follow my lead. Gem gave us the easy part for a reason.”
“Yeah, breaching a few walls to rescue a few civillians among a base of pirates, no sweat,” I nodded. He smirked again as Ari descended onto our destination.
“You're all good to go,” she said, opeing the doors again.
I grabbed my bag from the wall next to me, and turned toward Tank.
“Let's go,” he nodded. We jumped onto the surface and took a few steps forward, before Tank grabbed the demolitions from his pack and placed them in there positions on the hull.
“We're good to go whenever you are,” Tank spoke over the comm.
“Alright, Judo's just begun the hack. The moment you hear the alarm, blow that thing and get a move on.”
I took my pistol off of my tool belt and checked the ammo again. I wasn't really a big fan of them, but there was always the chance that occultic suppressors would prevent me from using energy inside, so it didn't hurt to be safe until I knew for sure.
The next few moments seemed endless as I gazed around to the vast emptiness around me. Looking up at space from here made me both excited and afraid. A truly magnificient thing, looking at the pure size of it, yet mortifying of how tiny of a being I was compared to it.
The blaring of the alarm finally went off, and with a nod toward Tank, I hit the button to blow the hull. I jumped down and was surprised to find everything empty. And by empty, I mean deserted, as if no one had been here for days.
“You guys get any contact on that side?” Gem came in.
“None,” I replied.
What the hell was going on?
“Proceed with caution the southern side of the base. We'll discuss from there.”
We paced through the base's interior, expecting a trap to set off the moment we let up on our caution. Tank walked on all fours, using his primal instincts to keep a keen awareness of everything. Despite the outward metallic appearance of the base, the interior was quite comfortable to say the least. The walls of the hallway were a glossy bronze marble, with a deep red-violet carpet settling on the floor. As I glanced into the various rooms of the ship, each matched the halls, but with a slightly different variation of the marble. Aside from the extravagent look of the rooms, there was something else that stood out to me. These rooms were clearly occupied. The wooden dressers and nightstands were filled with family photos and other personal belongings.
“What the hell happened to all of the people?” I murmmered.
“Maybe they have a central location for meetings.” Tank suggested.
We walked on through the halls, caution letting up little by little. I'd holstered my weapon now. Seeing as the ship didn't offer any energy suppression, I was free to use my detection skills for any undiscovered threats. Eventually we came through a corridor that led into a small room where Gem and Judo awaited us.
“Well this is certainly anti-climatic,” Judo began.
“Got that right,” Tank replied. Gem sighed as he rose to his feet.
“Well, doesn't seem to be much point to breaching the hull here. It was supposed to thin the air, but seeing as no one will be following us down, I suppose it won't matter. Let's just get to the decks below and see if we can find anything. Prisoners are still the number one priority, so if you run into anything, avoid it until we either get them out, or can be certain that they aren't here.”
With his last words, he turned toward the stairs, with the rest of us trailing him. We got to the cargo hold where Tank and I split off to search. I routinely searched room by room for any signs of prisoners or energy that could be used to track them. All was coming up empty. We moved to the next floor, and still nothing.
“Anti-climatic doesn't even begin to describe the feeling,” I muttered.
On que, a feint, constant clank came from the distance.
“I'm not making that up, am I?,” Tank asked.
“Not unless we're sharing an imagination.” We turned our head and proceeded toward the noise. We twisted and turned through a variety of turns until we eventually reached a massive library. The clanking sound stopped, and I looked around in interest at the towering shelves that rose to the second floor.
“Looks like these guys are big fans of books,” I said.
“Either that, or this place is for the heathen, and whoever disobeys pirate law gets imprisoned here.”
As we split up to walk the aisles, the clanking sound came again. As I passed through, continuing my search for the source, a couple of the books on the shelves caught my eye. I half expected some childrens books, maybe a few harder YA novels, but it seemed like every book I passed dealt with either history, art, or drama.
These must be some sophisticated pirates.
I was drawing closer to the clanking, when suddenly, the shelves began shifting. They warped around, as if creating a new labryinth to walk through, and I found myself dodging around the cases as they moved at speeds far greater than a bookshelf was supposed to move. Not that they were supposed to move at all.
It seemed like all was settling down when suddenly I felt a force yank me back, and I started falling. It took me a moment to realize that I wasn't just falling to the ground, I'd fallen into something and was taking a trip through some kind of shoot. I tossed and tumbled my way through darkness until I was finally spit out onto a grated metal surface.
“Lyles!” I heard Tank feintly call out.
I tried to call back but to no avail. I picked up my comm, only to find it had been crushed during the fall.
Guess I'm on my own for awhile.
The sound of music suddenly appearing up ahead made me all the more cautious.
Not a damn sound the whole mission, and suddenly there's clanking and music.
I proceeded down the corridor, and back onto the familiar halls of the base. As I marched closer, I could make out a piano as the source of the music. I wasn't entirely sure, but it appeared to be Chopin's Funeral March. The only reason I knew that was because it was Sy's favorite piece. The thought sent a small burst of enthusiasm through my nerves, as I picked up my pace. I mazed through the halls until I eventually came upon a door, where the sounds harmonized just on the other side. I slipped through silently and met another surprise as a large theatre presented itself. It was mostly dark, however a dim spotlight hovered over a grand piano in the center of the stage. I glanced around at the arching balconies and the glistening chandeliers that took up various positions throughout the auditorium. The height of the ceiling extended upwards about three floors, leaving me to wonder just how far I had fallen. And more importantly, I wondered why the hell these pirates were so goddamn fancy. It took me a moment to snap out of my brief awe to realize that the piano was the source of the music, yet no was one playing it.