The engines wound down and the view outside Sophine's cockpit stood still so quickly her mind imagined it was still blurring past her; a common optical illusion experienced by pilots after a quantum drive jump. Her speakers squelched and she heard Logan's voice, “Send up the count.” “Wolf Charlie Two, all okay.” she said.
Ivar came in next, “Wolf Charlie three, all okay.”
“Trapjaw, all okay.”
Logan nodded to himself, “Wolf Charlie one, all okay. Alright Trapjaw, we're with you to the jump point and then you're on your own into the next system.”
“Trapjaw, rodger, I was at the briefing.”
“Charlie One, I understand that but it's my job to ensure you are aware of the details.” Logan waited for a retort, but it never came. Good riddance, he thought.
The flight through the system remained uneventful until they passed Nav point two and began closing in on the jump point. Traffic started to pick up as ships began popping up on their scopes more frequently.
“Charlie One, this is Trapjaw; you might want to head back now; even if we're in a UEE shuttle, you three are cramping my style for this hunt.”
Logan looked over at the shuttle, and could barely see the silhouettes through the tinted canopy. “Trapjaw, my orders are to follow you to the jump point and I'm going to do exactly that.”
“Charlie one, then how about you at least move to maximum sensor range, over.”
“Trapjaw, fine, have it your way.” Logan switched to squadron comms. “You heard the lady. Form on my wing, we're moving to az el fifty two hundred, copy.”
“Charlie two, copy.”
“Wolf Charlie three, copy.”
The three hornets pulled up and left, closing into a tight chevron formation as they made distance between themselves and the shuttle.
“I'm not a fan of this idea,” Sophine remarked.
“Neither am I Black, but we can't have everything our way, and she is technically calling the shots on this one.”
“Pardon my ignorance," Ivar said, "but who is this woman anyway?”
Logan took a deep breath through his artificial diaphragm. "Major Alera Kusanagi is, or rather was, one of the marine's most efficient tools. She's practically a legend. They say the only thing left on her body that hasn't been synthetically replaced is her brain."
“Why all the cybernetics?” Ivar asked.
Sophine chimed in, "Well as cliche as it sounds, the navy allegedly sent her on one suicide mission after another, but she kept on coming back; leaving a little of her humanity behind every time until eventually there was barely anything left."
“Why on earth would she still choose to work for them then? Civilian or not?”
“The UEE is rich Ivar, and Kusanagi requires substantial maintenance to stay alive. Let's just say she's got more than just acquisition of wealth on her mind when she's doing a job. She needs enough money to get tuned up from time to time; no pun intended.”
“Pun?” Ivar asked.
Sophine laughed, “Around here getting tuned up usually means hitting the bottle Ivar.”
“Right, I should have caught on to that.”
“Look gentlemen,” Soph tapped a few commands to focus her sensors, “I've got a cutlass heading toward the shuttle.”
Ivar's heart started pounding in his chest. “Should we move in?”
Logan keyed in, “No, we sit back. If they're lucky this guy will have the surprise of a lifetime.”
Ivar thought for a moment, “You think that ship's a pirate?”
“Whether it is or not, Alera's sending out a distress signal, so I think she's springing the trap now.”
“Well,” Logan said, “A cutlass is a good choice for what they're planning, I just feel bad for the poor sucker who's about to lose his ship.”
Alera was leaning over Da Vinci, peering up through the canopy at the Cutlass as it descended to dock on the ventral moorings. “What a sucker,” she said, sneering. She turned around, “Alright, the second that airlock opens I want LeCours, Smith and Sheridan ready in support just in case this guy's packing. Provost, you're neutralizing our welcoming party; wait as long as you need to make a threat assessment and we'll follow your lead.” She turned to Jon and Jim, the two ex marine pilots from the Scipio. “As for you two, you're both on point as soon as that hatch is cleared, once you clear the hold we'll send up the support crew and you'll move forward to the cockpit, understood?”
Jim simply sat there, his silence acknowledgement enough.
Jon nodded and muttered, “Ma'am.”
“That's the last time you'll ever say that to me without physical reprisal.”
“Uh ...” Jon looked at Jim who shrugged. “Alright then?”
The comms squelched. “Unknown callsign, this is the Pasadena, do you read over?”
“Do you read? Really?” Kusanagi walked over to Da Vinci, who was holding the comm for her. She cleared her throat and, in her best “damsel in distress”, began to speak in a shrill cry. “Hello? Are you there? Oh thank God! I need help, there's something wrong with the ship but I don't know how to -”
“Ma'am, don't worry, just calm down.”
Kusanagi rolled her eyes, “Again with the Ma'am's,” she sighed, keying the mic and getting back into character. “Please hurry! I don't know how much longer I can survive in here, it's been hours!”
“We're docking now Ma'am, we'll be there shortly.”
The hull shuddered, and the telltale clang of mooring clamps echoed through the shuttle.
Da Vinci turned from the controls. “We've got a good seal, get ready.”
“Get ready?” Alera said, shaking her head, “Who do you think we are?” She dropped the comm in his lap, “Kill the lights.” Turning toward the airlock, she smiled at the sight of her men poised; head up, gun up.
On an unknown planet, Hector sat at a concrete table, an old ration's contents sprawled on the tabletop.“You gonna eat that?” asked the large Tevarin across the table. Ghurgatz's voice was a lot more raspy since Hector had last heard it, probably something to do with the blade he'd sunk through his voicebox. Hector shook his head and slid the bag of dried meat across the concrete. He wasn't sure if it was a ruse, but Ghurgatz seemed genuinely friendly. Interitus had hyped up this concept that the Tevarin were ready to kill him all over again, but from this particular interaction the situation seemed altogether different.
“What about that one?” asked the massive humanoid, pointing at another vacuum sealed package from the ration.
“Nope.” Hector slid it over.
Ghurgatz tore it open, pouring the contents into an already half filled maw.
“Hungry?” Hector asked. “There are more rations you know.”
“I've already consumed my allotment.”
“I wasn't aware there was one.”
“Not for humans, only for Tevarin.”
“How much do you eat?”
Ghurgatz laughed, “A lot.” He got up and walked out of the mess without saying another word.
Hector was still unsure as to why there seemed no ill will from the person he'd stabbed in the throat. He shrugged the notion away, picked at his teeth with his tongue and dug into another part of the ration pack. As he innocently looked around the room, an object caught his eye. Where Claire had been sitting, a pair of tweezers lay on the table. His eyes shot around the room, he was alone to the best of his knowledge. With a start, climbed up over the table, dashed across the space between and snatched the tool before quickly returning to his seat.
Not a moment later Claire walked in. She stopped, stared at him for a brief moment and then looked around. “I thought I heard some rustling,” she said.
Hector shrugged, still picking his teeth with his tongue. “Dunno,” he said, his words skewed as he finally dislodged the wheat caught in a molar. “I didn't hear anything.”
Claire looked at him suspiciously then walked off.
Hector could hear her heels striking the concrete for just a short while before she entered a room he supposed was her bunk space. He peered down at the prize he'd plucked, wondering how useful it would be in the moments to come. Anxious to find out, he got up, disposed of what remained of the ration but for a few packages of dried raisins, and left the dining area. On the way to his room, he passed an open door through which he saw Trigger, the Tevarin he'd stabbed with the makeshift spear. “Here,” he said, throwing the raisins at him from the doorway.
Trigger stared at the bags as they hit the ground, then looked up at Hector. He got up from his bunk and picked the packages up off the floor.
Hector smiled and walked off, continuing to his room. If he was to be trapped here for any length of time, keeping a friendly rapport with the Tevarin was going to be a necessity.
In his room, Hector closed the door and quickly got to work. He removed the faceplate of the mobiglas and began the tedious and nigh impossible task of re-routing electrical pathways without solder or proper tooling. Only a few minutes into the work, he wiped sweat from his brow and took a deep breath, realizing how long the coming night was going to be.