Ahead of him, Hector couldn't help but notice Claire's feminine gait, pivoting her body around a narrow waist.
She stopped, silhouetted in an open hall that lead to a much larger room. With a hand on her hip, she turned. “Let's go, don't make him wait.”
Hector hurried, and when his eyes finally adjusted to the lighting in the room, he saw he was in a large agora. He could discern at his feet where the modern concrete gave way to ancient stone, and looking up, he marveled at the immense geodesic dome that enveloped the area. In the center was a raised pedestal of sorts; Interitus stood there, a strange sphere hovering above the pillar before him.
“Welcome! I doubt if ever a villain had more beautiful a lair; don't you think?”
“I doubt if ever a villain was as unaccomplished as you. So you caught a few hornets in a gravity well. Hoorah,” he said.
“You know Hector, you're good at riding the edge between me liking your arrogance and shooting you for it.”
“Well, shoot me or put me to work. I'm tired of wasting away in your prison.”
“Prison? You're no prisoner here Hector. Staying in your room was all your doing, it was never locked and no one told you that you couldn't leave.”
Hector scoffed, failing to hide his embarrassment in the truth of his words.
Claire was looking at him with a smile that blared of her disdain; she found him pathetic.
Interitus slid his fingers across the sphere and a series of strange sounds echoed through the dome.
“What exactly are you doing?” Hector asked.
“Well Hector, it's rather simple. You see, I'm trying to use this ancient alien technology I spent the last decade putting together from parts that were scattered across known, and some unknown space; all in order to fold the time-space continuum to put a giant Vanduul horde in the center of UEE space while its fleets are dispatched to the outer rim. Shouldn't be that hard now should it?”
Hector raised an eyebrown, scratched his forehead and then cleared his throat. “Alien technology?”
“Yes my friend. I have no idea who built this bad boy, but it is very capable of folding space. I just can't seem to get it to in two places at once.” He stood back from the sphere. “That's where you come in. You and I are going to go on a little trip!”
“Right, the suicidal one you mentioned before.”
“Good you were listening.” Interitus said cheerfully. “We're going to open up a sub space rift, fly through it, get the attention of some angry Vanduul and then sucker them back here.”
Hector shook his head again, a rye smile on his lips. “You think that plan is solid?”
“Not at all, but I'm out of options and out of time. Sometimes, the crazy shit works Subtext. You just have to try. We leave tomorrow, make yourself at home; food's that way.” Interitus pointed down another of the many halls that seemed all to lead to this giant room.
Hector sighed and turned, making his way to where Interitus had pointed.
“Oh one more thing.”
“The Tevarin are still quite angry with you, and I don't feel like spending more time repairing your corpse, so don't piss them off.”
“I'll try my best.”
“I told them to leave you alone, but you know Tevarin!” he chuckled, “They never listen worth a damn.”
“Until recently I've never met one in my life.”
“Now now Subtext, don't lie to me.” Interitus stopped, turned and squinted; staring in his eyes, or perhaps past his eyes. “Unless of course, you're lying to yourself.”
Hector huffed, frustration inching up his spine. “You said there was food?”
“Rations yes, help yourself; be ready for tomorrow.” Interitus' voice became echoed as he left through a different passageway further down the curved room. “Get some rest, it'll be a crazy day!”
Claire was waiting by the door. “Let's go, I'll show you the mess.”
“For someone who obviously doesn't like me, why do you seem to want to help me so much?”
“It's not that I don't like you; it's that I find you pathetic. There's a difference.”
A realization came over Hector in that moment; the realization that he missed the Scipio crew more than ever. It clung to his heart like a heavy weight, tearing the flesh as it swung with each step he took in this dreadful place.
The command deck of the Scipio was fully staffed. Jameson was in The Chair, Anderson at his right.
“Sir, the shuttle is away,” said the Traffic Control Officer, her voice echoing both over comms and in real time. “Charlie Flight is on escort until Nav three.”
“Thank you Major Jasper,” Jameson replied, taking a deep breath as he watched the craft shoot out from the Scipio's main deck. “I really hope you made the right choice putting those two pilots on that mission Captain.”
“You said it yourself sir, we make the decisions; even if it means bringing men to their deaths. I desperately needed someone I could trust on that mission; I just can't let her go off to plunder God knows who without moral oversight.”
“Do you really think those marines will stop her from doing whatever it is she's planning to do?”
“They may sway her away from complete insanity.”
Jameson nodded. “Let's hope so.”
Anderson could hear Lieutenant Rice speaking with the flight as they reached the limits of the Scipio's sensor range.
“Wolf Charlie One, this is Scipio control; Threshold now, over.”
Logan keyed his mic, “Wolf Charlie One, Roger out.” He turned to look out his canopy, surveying the UEE shuttle as it chugged along. He switched to Squadron comms. “Black, you're lagging from your formation node move up a bit would you?”
Sophine moved the throttle up slightly, but strangely enough it was more difficult to maintain formation at the slow speed of the shuttles maximum thrust. “How's that?” she asked.
“So, when do we peel off of these guys again?” asked Ivar. This was his first foray out of the Scipio's sphere of influence since he arrived a few weeks ago.
“Were you not listening in the briefing room Ivar? I swear to God I'll have you washing dishes with the cooks for a week if you can't tell me the coordinates for our first quantum drive jump.”
“Ugh... well. Let me think.” Ivar was sweating, he was about to give up when he heard a beep. His comms panel had a text message from Sophine; it was the coordinates. “Well let me see here, we should be engaging quantum drives at Zulu Bravo negative five fifty by Echo Romeo thirty three at an accretion elevation of three AU. That's in about five minutes.”
Logan raised an eyebrow. “Huh, well done.”
Ivar wished he could wipe the sweat beading on his forehead, he shook his head violently instead, and felt the droplets get pulled from his skin as they soaked up in the material bordering his visor.
The following five minutes went on in relative silence, until they reached nav point one; the nav point Logan had asked Ivar recite. The three Hornets re-jigged their formations in silence as per Quantum Drive protocol.
Logan waited to see all green lights on his display before keying his mic. “Trapjaw, this is Wolf Charlie one, we're ready on your command.”
Although the Delta's flight lead, Major Lance "Da Vinci" Rogan, was at the helm of the shuttle, Alera's voice came over the com. “Trapjaw, send it.”
With that, Logan keyed the commands and the four ships engaged quantum drives in unison, their engines accelerating each craft to a fraction of the speed of light, skimming across the system at distances that would otherwise have taken years to traverse.