Doublecross: Part 2

 “We’re in.”  Li announced.

 

“All nonessential systems to standby.”  Duren replied, as he began entering commands on his console.

 

Li undid her restraints and stretched as she drifted up out of her seat.  “Food?” 

 

“Sounds good.”  Duren replied.  “All systems are secured.”

 

The hatch in the forward bulkhead opened and Emrah glided gracefully into the cockpit, followed by a less graceful Talaal. 

 

“Food.”  Emrah announced, as he floated past Li and Duren.

 

“We were just about to go up.”  Li informed him.  “Go on, we’ll follow.”

 

Emrah opened the aft hatch and one by one, they floated out into the corridor.  Last out, Duren secured the hatch and followed the other three up the ladder to the mess.  He took his customary seat and secured the simple waist belt, to keep from drifting.  Talaal had filled several reusable pouches with hot coffee, and as soon as Duren was seated, he flicked one of the pouches to him.  Duren snagged it as it drifted near and took a quick sip.  It wasn’t as satisfying as drinking from a mug, but this was a safer, not to mention easier, option when gravity wasn’t present.  He heard Lars, Lucy, Ger, and Theo approaching.  A moment later, they entered the mess and took their seats.

 

“What’s this nonsense about Shade?”  Theo demanded.  “Surely these two were just pulling an old man’s leg.”

 

“No joke.”  Duren replied.  “Cargo’s aboard.”

 

“Madness.”  Theo griped.  “Besides, I thought we were going to take a few days to relax before the next job.”

 

“Plans change.”  Li shrugged.

 

“It was too good to pass up.”  Duren told the engineer.  “We pull this off, and we’ll move up.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.”  Theo grumbled, sipping his own coffee.  “We still need a few days on solid ground so I can properly strip that stabiliser.”

 

“I thought you said it was taken care of?”  Duren asked, his eyes narrowing.

 

“It is.  For now.  It’ll hold, don’t worry, but I’m still going to have to strip and rebuild it soon.”

 

“After this run then, we’ll have some time planetside.  I promise.”

 

“As long as I get to have some time off too.”  Theo grumbled.

 

“In the meantime.”  Duren said, changing the subject.  “We’ll be at the system jump point in a few hours, we’ll drift for a few hours while we recharge then jump for Shade.”

 

“We’re not going to double jump?”  Ger asked.

 

Duren shook his head.  “Not unless we have to.  We don’t want those mercs working the numbers.  Their leader seems bright enough to figure it out.”

 

“Anyone want food?”  Lars asked.

 

“Not this close to going in a pod.”  Ger shuddered.

 

Talaal slapped one of his cybernetic hands down on Ger’s shoulder and laughed.  “You’ll get used to it eventually.”

 

Ger rolled his eyes.  “Gods I hope so!”

 

*

 

A few hours later, the space close to the system’s primary jump point, was rent asunder, spilling chaotic energies of the Void out into the cold vacuum of space.  The Tarnished Rose slipped back into reality and the tear closed behind it.  Almost immediately she spun around and fired her main engines.  The ship shuddered and groaned under the strain, as her speed began to slowly bleed off. 

 

Li, her hands and feet on the controls, kept her eyes on her readouts.  She was being pushed, hard, back into her seat.  The engines were still ramping up to full power, but thrust had already passed one standard G, and was moving quickly towards two.

 

“We’re clear.”  Duren reported, gruffly.  “Link Engine is spinning down and the primary capacitor is entering its charging cycle.”

 

“No ships close by.”  Emrah reported over the intercom.

 

Li sighed and eased off the throttle a little.  There was no need to subject the ship to anymore strain than required.

 

“Reducing thrust.”  She said aloud. 

 

The rest of the crew were silent, everyone monitoring their own stations, ready to report anything amiss.  Li entered several more commands, still eying her screens.  She wasn’t bringing the ship to a complete stop, just slowing it relative to the jump point. 

 

The charge time for the system was several hours and once the ship was hovering stationary relative to the primary jump point, a mere ten thousand kilometres away, the crew gathered again in the mess, to plan their incursion on Shade.  Along with the data supplied by Kaldi, there had also been some falsified documentation, that would inform the authorities that they were there to collect a cargo, the destination of which had not yet been confirmed.  It was sketchy, but it should pass muster.  Emrah was busy creating a false identity for the ship, complete with registry documentation, that he would insert into any customs vessels and stations that tried to scan them.  It was a good system, but not always certain.  Shade would be the most rigorous test of their methods yet.  The planet had good security, but there were always gaps that could be exploited.  A little luck, and a lot of planning and everything would go off without a hitch.

 

That was their life.  You could plan as much as you wanted, but in the end, a healthy dose of luck was needed.  Granted, it was probably much easier in the early days of the Outer Colonies Alliance, but even some five hundred years later, the challenges were almost the same.  As were the rewards and penalties. 

 

In the wild days, before the OCA, the only real security forces smugglers needed to watch for were the Combine and the Union.  Everything outside of their territories was a chaos of constantly shifting alliances.  There were still areas that were just as chaotic, but those territories lay beyond the OCA borders.  Civilisation had just pushed out a little further into the wild.

 

*

 

A week later, the Tarnished Rose cruised through the Void.  In the cockpit, Li was asleep, lit only by the light of her display screens.  Her seat restraints were secured, but loose, allowing her to float a little above her seat.  She stirred a little, murmured something softly and returned to a deeper sleep.

 

Deeper inside the ship, three decks down, Theo was similarly asleep at his station in the engineering control compartment.  A small empty bottle drifted just above the floor, having slipped from the engineer’s fingers.  The control compartment was a large area, its walls covered with system panels and monitors.  A large monitor dominated the rear wall, displaying constantly updating information on the ship’s reactor and power grid. 

 

One deck up, all the compartments were in darkness.  With all but two of the crew in stasis, there was little need to keep everything lit up.  Silence lay heavily on the ship, oppressive in its totality.  So, if anyone had been standing close to the passenger stasis room, it would have come as a complete surprise when one of the pods began opening.

 

*

 

Li woke suddenly, feeling something was wrong.  A moment later, she realised that she was hearing an alarm buzzing.  A quick glance at one of her screens revealed that the passenger stasis pods were open.

 

“Fuck!”

 

Another alarm sounded, this one much more urgent.  A quick check revealed that Engineering had gone into lockdown. 

 

Li swore again.  She flipped open the protective cover of a bright red push switch marked “Cockpit Lockdown”.  Before she could press it though, she heard a round being chambered in a pistol.

 

“I wouldn’t, if I were you.”  The voice cautioned.

 

Li moved her hand away from the switch, instead dropping her hand beside her seat, where she kept a pistol of her own.

 

“I wouldn’t do that either.”  The voice again cautioned.  “I don’t want to have to spray your brains all over the compartment.”

 

“Do what?”  Li asked, her fingers edging closer to her gun.

 

“The gun you’re reaching for.”  The voice advised.  “Take it out, slowly, with two fingers, and toss it forward.  Before you do though, know that I don’t actually need you to fly this ship, I have my own pilot.”

 

Li rolled her eyes and sighed.  She reached gently down and drew out her pistol with her thumb and index finger.  She pulled the small gun clear of its holster and flicked it towards the forward wall of the compartment.

 

“Good.”  The voice said, sounding a little smug.  “Release your restraints now and turn, slowly, to face me.”

 

Li undid the restraints and a slight motion was all she needed to turn herself on the spot.  The mercenary leader floated just inside the cockpit hatch, his back braced against the rear wall, in case he needed to shoot her.  He was fully dressed again, in his combat gear, and as she looked him over, he cast a pair of handcuffs to her.

 

“Put them on.”  He ordered.

 

“Now what?”  Li asked, as soon as she secured the handcuffs on her wrists.

 

“We wait for my team to finish securing the ship.” 

 

“And then?”

 

“And then I deliver this ship to my employer, and you with it.”

 

Li laughed.  “What possible use could your employer have with us?”

 

The mercenary smiled darkly.  “You didn’t think you’d fooled us, did you?”

 

Li felt a sliver of ice slide through her guts but managed to keep it off her face.

 

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”  Li said, sounding puzzled.

 

The mercenary leader opened his mouth to reply, but his communicator buzzed, interrupting him.  He pulled the communicator from his pocket.

 

“What?”  He barked.

 

“We’re locked out of Engineering, can’t get through the doors.”

 

“Wait one.”  The mercenary leader replied.

 

The big man glared at Li and gestured to her station.  “Open it.”

 

Li smiled sweetly.  “I can’t.  It’s on local lockdown.  It can only be opened from inside.”

 

The mercenary pointed his pistol at Li’s head.  “Then tell whoever is in there that if Engineering isn’t unlocked, I’ll blow your head off.”

 

Li shrugged.  “Can’t do that either.  No communications in or out.  Part of the lockdown protocol.”

 

“This is fucking ridiculous.”  The man snarled, pushing forward and grabbed Li’s flight suit.
He jabbed the barrel of the pistol against her head.  “Open that compartment, or I’ll fucking kill you!”

 

“I told you.”  Li hissed, angry.  “I.  Can’t.  It’s a security feature we added for situations just like this.”

 

The mercenary leader ground his teeth and thumbed back the hammer on his pistol.  It was unnecessary, but it effectively announced that he was at the end of his patience.

 

“Last chance.”  He ground out.

 

“You picked a bad ship to hijack.  A really bad ship.”

 

The mercenary laughed.  “A bunch of undercover border agents?  I’m shaking in my boots.  Tell me how to get into Engineering or I’m going to kill you.”

 

“You’ve said that already.”  Li replied, calmly.

 

The mercenary’s communicator buzzed again.

 

“What?!”  He all but shouted into the device.

 

“Uh, boss, one of the crew is not in their pod.”

 

“So help me.”  He shook his head, his gun still levelled at Li.  “Who’s missing?”

 

“The woman.”

 

“Well obviously, you fuckwit.  She’s flying the ship.”

 

“No, the other one.”

 

“Her?  I doubt we’ve much to worry about.  We’ve secured their weapons room.  Tell the rest to keep an eye out for her, she’s probably hiding in a locker somewhere.”

 

The mercenary put away his radio again and sighed.  “Right.  Where were we?”

 

“Engineering.”  Li prompted, helpfully.

 

“Right.  Last chance.  Open that compartment.”

 

Li shrugged.  “How about, no?”

 

“Fine!  Have it your own way.”

 

Li watched as the mercenary’s eyes suddenly widened in shock and confusion.  He dropped his gun, fumbled for it, but only succeeded in pushing it further away.

 

“I guess she wasn’t hiding in a locker after all.”  Li smiled.

 

The mercenary gazed at her, his mouth moving, but making no sound, and she watched as life left his eyes.

 

Lucy, wearing body armour, pushed the now dead mercenary aside. 
“Hiding in a locker!”  She growled.  “Asshole.”

 

Li relaxed and the tension drained from her, leaving her weak.
“You took your sweet time.  What kept you?  I thought he was actually going to shoot me there for a moment.”

 

“Sorry.”  Lucy replied, as she plucked a key from one of the dead mercenary’s pockets.  “I was closer to Engineering.  I thought it would be Theo I’d have to rescue.”

 

“I fell asleep.”  Li admitted as Lucy opened the handcuffs.  “It looks like even Theo has faster reactions than me.”

 

Lucy snorted.  “I wouldn’t worry about it too much.  That man has the reactions of a cat, drink or no drink.  I’m going to take care of the other mercs.  Seal the hatch behind me.”

 

Li nodded.  “Be careful.”

 

Lucy flashed her a smile as she took the floating pistol and pushed herself out of the cockpit.  She glided back into the corridor and waited until the hatch locked behind her.

 

“Right.”  She muttered to herself.  “One down, five to go.”

 

She glided through the corridor, staying close to the ceiling, a stun gun in one hand and her knife in the other.  Without something to brace against, the gun she’d taken would be next to useless.  It’d send her flying if she fired it.  Sure, the bullet might hit someone, but unless it put them down right away, she’d be vulnerable.  The stun-gun had a kick all of its own, but it was far less than a pistol and was manageable.  The downside was that it was single fire.  So instead she carried two, and her knife of course.  She glanced at her small, wrist mounted, display.  The ship wasn’t registering any motion on this deck, other than her own and Li’s.  She flicked the display.  It looked like there were two a deck down.  One in the crew stasis compartment and one in the weapons locker.  Another flick, and then another.  And two, outside Engineering.  She nodded to herself and brought herself to a hover over the ladder.  She flipped over and eased herself down, head-first, slowly descending until she could look along the corridor.  It was empty.  So far, so good.  She pushed down into the corridor and deftly pushed herself off the wall, speeding towards the crew stasis compartment.

 

As she approached the door to the room, she flipped over again, so she was moving feet first.  She braced herself and hit the wall, beside the door, bending her knees to take the impact.  She hadn’t been moving at reckless speed, but she grunted quietly, before gently pushing off the wall, but directing herself towards the ceiling by the door.  She grabbed a rung in the ceiling, and used it to adjust her heading, diverting herself into the crew stasis compartment.

 

Lucy flipped over again as she flew through the open hatch.  The mercenary was standing at the stasis control terminal with his back to the door.  Lucy aimed the stun-gun and fired.  The electrodes shot out of the weapon.  Several of them harmlessly hit the mercenary’s armour, but enough hit unprotected skin and the man gasped and writhed. 

 

Lucy tossed the stun-gun aside and bounced back across the room, slamming feet first into the mercenary and driving him into the floor.  The man grunted, and tried to backhand Lucy, but she ducked the blow and drove her knife into the man’s neck.  Blood sprayed out as she struck the artery.  She held him down for a moment then released the dying man, pulling the knife out and wiping it on his clothing.  She recovered the spent stun-gun and ejected the used cartridge, replacing it with a fresh one.

 

“Four.”  Lucy muttered as she glided to the hatch. 

 

It was a straight run from the compartment to the weapons locker, back passed the ladder up to deck two.  If the mercenary in the weapons locker had heard anything, she wouldn’t have any cover.  She glanced over her shoulder at her sleeping crewmates.  It’d take them too long to wake up, and they’d be weak and disorientated from stasis.  She was on her own.  Just the way she liked it.  She glanced out into the corridor and found it clear.

 

Theo floated beside the main hatch into engineering.  It seemed like an hour or two had passed since he’d activated his lockdown protocol.  He wasn’t sure if that was because he was on his own, or because he really wanted a drink to calm his nerves and he didn’t have anything to hand.  He held a large shotgun in his hands, waiting for something, anything, to happen.  He knew that anyone outside the door had to be digging around in the hatch’s circuitry, trying to get around the lockdown.  If they were any good, they’d manage it before too long.  If they did, he was ready and loaded.

 

There was a thump on the hatch, and then another, then the hatch began to slowly open.  Theo ratcheted a round into the chamber and braced himself against the wall.

 

“Come and get me you bastards!”  He shouted, defiantly.

 

A body glided through the door, startling the engineer, who fired his weapon on reflex.

 

Lucy stuck her head in the door before Theo could load another round.

 

“I think he’s already dead.”  She observed.

 

Theo breathed a sigh of relief.  “Gods damn it girl, I could have blown a hole through you!”

 

Lucy grinned.  “Why do you think I tossed that body in first?”

 

The engineer flicked on the safety and ejected the chambered cartridge, ensuring that the weapon was now safe.

 

“You get ‘em all?”  He asked.

 

Lucy nodded.  “They were all muscle, no brain.  Easy as.”

 

Theo snorted.  “Cocky.”

 

Lucy rolled her eyes.  “It’s not cocky if it’s true.”

 

“Maybe.”  He allowed.  “You better let Li know that it’s safe again.”

 

It was Lucy’s turn to snort.  “You think she doesn’t know.  I bet she was following me on the internal cameras.”

 

Theo frowned.  “She’s not supposed to have access to them if she’s locked down.  That’s the whole point.”

 

“We both know that she’ll have found a work around.  She knows this ship better than you do.”

 

The engineer grunted, conceding the point.  “We better wake up the rest.  Duren will have to decide what to do next.”

 

“Fair to say that we’re blown.”

 

Theo waggled his hand back and forth.  “Maybe, maybe not.  Not for us to decide.”

 

Lucy nodded.  “True.  I’ll start warming them up.”

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© ODunin 2020