Doublecross: Part 3
The cool, gusting air rocked the boom of the old rusted crane. Lucy didn’t pay it much attention; she’d inspected it before she’d climbed up and judged it sound. Besides, it had lasted this long, it’d last another few hours. She and Ger had rolled for it, and she’d won this time. The coordinates for the meet had centred on a huge, but abandoned, industrial area. Several other large factory complexes surrounded this one, and Lucy was glad to be wearing her respirator. Talaal and Lars had already commented on the smell, several times. She checked her rifle again, resting in front of her, making minute adjustments to account for the wind. Satisfied for the time being, she swept her eyes around the periphery of the designated area, her goggles focusing and zooming as required. No sign of movement. She settled down to wait.
Ger was likewise waiting. Unlike Lucy he was perched behind a large vent cover. He was high enough that he had a good vantage over the area, just not as good as Lucy’s. Still, he’d have more cover if the bullets started flying.
“I still think this is a terrible idea.” He heard Lucy mutter over the radio.
“That’s why I make the decisions.” Duren muttered back.
“Do you think he’ll show?” Ger asked quietly.
“He better.” Duren replied, softly, his voice distorted a little over the radio. “Or all of this has been for nothing.”
“If he doesn’t, I think we should pay Kaldi a visit and put a few bullets in him.” Lars commented.
“I like that idea.” Lucy replied, hotly. “Even if this all goes to plan, maybe we should do that anyway.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Duren snorted. “Now clear the channel.”
Lucy scanned around again and spotted some movement at the edge of one of the other factories. She zoomed in closer to get a better look.
“I have movement.” She reported. “East. I count four. Ger?”
Ger replied over the radio. “No visual yet, North and West are clear.”
Lucy slowly repositioned herself on the boom, shifting the rifle slightly. She readjusted the scope, accounting again for the windspeed and the very slight change in elevation.
“I see them now.” Ger whispered over the radio. “Three male, one female.”
The group walked at a careful pace, fast enough to cover ground, but not so fast as to appear to be rushing. A gigantic man led the group. Taller and wider than even Talaal and carrying a large automatic rifle. At the rear, another man, of average height, kept pace. He, too, was armed with an automatic rifle, although one of standard size. Between the two was the third man, and the woman. The man was large, caught somewhere between muscular and fat. His shoulders and arms had been surgically augmented with what looked like cheap cybernetics. He moved like a bruiser, slow, but dangerous. The woman beside him could have been from anywhere. She wore clean, but worn clothes, with no evidence of any weapons or augmentations. Ger focused on her, trying to figure out what she was doing there. He spotted a tattoo on her forehead and recoiled.
“Shit!” He swore over the radio. “We have a big problem.”
“What is it?” Duren replied, calmly.
“The woman is a Warlock. I’ve got my crosshairs over her heart, just give the word.”
“Hold!” Duren hissed. “If you put her down, it’ll mess this right up!”
“I’m with Ger on this.” Lucy whispered, coldly. “We need to put the fucking Null down now, or we’re screwed the first second this all goes wrong.”
“I said hold!” Duren broke in. “If shit goes sideways, she goes down first, but not before. We can still get through this.”
“I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to put her down at that point.” Ger advised.
“Just do your best.” Duren ordered.
“Understood.” Ger replied, quietly.
Duren stood in an open area of ground, doing his best to look calm, but news of the Warlock had shaken him. Talaal and Lars flanked him, both holding their guns, but keeping the weapons pointed at the ground.
“This is starting to unravel.” Talaal muttered.
“Maybe.” Duren muttered back. “But we can still salvage it.”
“Any of them twitches the wrong way and I’m laying down fire.” Lars said softly.
“Not until I say.” Duren cautioned.
“Fuck that.” Lars cursed. “The Warlock changes things.”
“It changes nothing!” Duren growled. “Hold your ground and follow my lead.”
Lars spat to one side.
“Li?” Duren said into the radio. “You listening?”
“Always.” The pilot replied.
“Maybe have the ship prepped for a fast extraction. If this does go sideways, we won’t want to hang around.”
“Already on it. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“They’ve split up.” Lucy reported. “Big boy is coming on alone while the other three hold back. You’ll see him in a second.”
“Big boy?!” Duren asked, bemused.
Ahead, the huge man who’d been leading the group, stepped out from behind a pile of junk, and turned to look at Duren.
“Oh.” Duren amended. “I see.”
The giant looked around the area, then gestured to the rest of his group. The other three joined the huge man and they walked towards Duren, Lars, and Talaal.
“Hold.” Duren whispered.
Duren moved away from Talaal and Lars, towards the approaching group and stopped about midway between them.
“That’s far enough.” The Tarnished Rose’s captain said loudly.
The augmented man brushed his giant bodyguard aside and glared at Duren.
“You have some neck, showing up here. Why shouldn’t I just kill you?”
“I take it you’re Boros Soma then.” Duren said.
“I am, and you are the captain of that junker ship, the Tarnished Rose.”
“So why shouldn’t I kill you?” Boros asked again.
“Because the men you hired couldn’t do it when we were sleeping. How about we talk about what we can do for each other?”
Boros laughed. “Fine. You and I. No weapons.”
“Done.” Duren declared.
Duren drew his pistol, slowly, and gestured to Lars, who hurried to his captain’s side and took the gun. On the other side, Boros took out two large pistols and handed them to the man who’d brought up the rear. Both Duren and Boros nodded and walked towards each other.
“I have no shot on target.” Lucy muttered over the radio. “I can switch to the Null, Ger.”
“Acknowledged.” Ger whispered back. “Switching to Boros, you take the Warlock.”
Duren and Boros stopped a few feet apart and eyed each other.
“Talk fast.” Boros snapped.
“You want my ship.” Duren stated, calmly. “Your men never came close to taking it, so you know we’re good. I need work and you obviously need a ship, so we’ll work for you, on condition that you don’t try that shit again.”
“Why would I want you working for me when I can just kill you now and take the ship?”
Duren smiled grimly. “That would be a very expensive proposition for you. Maybe you’d get me, maybe you wouldn’t, but I guarantee that you won’t be walking out of here if you try.”
Boros eyed Duren again, weighing his options.
“Consider me… interested.” Boros said slowly. “Bring out the mercenaries.”
“Uh.” Duren said, caught off guard. “Why?”
“So I can have you execute them.”
“Why the hell would I do that?” Duren growled.
“I want you to prove to me that you’re not undercover customs agents.”
Duren laughed. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” Boros snapped. “Do it or I’ll kill you all. Right here. Right now.”
Duren smiled. “They’re already dead.”
It was Boros’ turn to be caught off guard. “What?”
“You heard me.” Duren barked, angry. “Nobody tries to take my ship. Nobody.”
Boros took a step back, away from Duren.
“This is, unexpected.” He said. “Bring me their bodies. I want them inspected.”
Boros’ giant bodyguard suddenly lifted his weapon.
“Possible problem.” Ger said, quietly, over the radio. “Big and ugly looks pissed.”
“I don’t see anything new.” Lucy replied.
Duren shrugged. “Sure. I won’t be taking them back though. You can dispose of them.”
Boros waved a hand. “Of course.”
Before anything more could be said, there were several large explosions all around them. The air was suddenly blindingly bright. Moments later, thick clouds of dense, grey, white smoke began crowding out the light.
“I fucking knew it!” Boros screamed, in outrage. “You’re a fucking border agent!”
“The Void I am!” Duren shouted back. “What have you gotten me in to?”
The Warlock suddenly dropped to the ground as the back of her skull exploded, spraying blood and gore out in a cone behind her.
“The Null bitch is down.” Lucy said softly.
From her position high overhead, Lucy watched as Boros’ giant aimed his rifle at Duren, as the captain backed towards Lars and Talaal. The giant fell too, spraying blood and brains, much like the Warlock. Ger was doing his job. She looked around and saw a loose ring of shadowy figures closing in around the rest of the team.
“Civil watch!” An amplified voice called out. “We have you surrounded. Throw down your weapons and submit.”
Lars and Talaal ran to Duren, returning his gun.
“I’m going to gut you like a fucking animal!” Boros shouted, pointing a small pistol he’d pulled from somewhere at Duren.
“You think this was me?” The Duren shouted back. “You asshole! They probably followed you! I’m not even from this dirtball!”
Ger brought his sights around to bear on Boros, took a moment to make sure, and gently squeezed the trigger. The round took Boros’s hand off at the wrist. The man glanced at his stump, uncomprehending, for a moment, before the pain hit him. His face lost all colour and he dropped to his knees.
“You’re dead!” He screamed. “I don’t care where you run! I’ll find you and grind your bones to dust!”
“Everyone!” Duren shouted. “Back to the ship.”
“I can’t get through to Li!” Talaal interrupted.
“She’s smart.” Duren replied, quickly. “And she’s not blind. She’ll stay out of trouble. The locals have probably jammed the comms around here. Once we’re outside their range, we’ll be fine.”
Boros was back on his feet, a roll of some sort of tape around his stump, and a gun in his other hand. He glared after Duren, but apparently decided that it was more important to escape now. Revenge would have to wait. His only remaining man, the one who’d been at the back when he’d arrived, began firing at the shadowy figures. He fired the short bursts of a man who knew how to control his fire.
Moments later, the Civil Watch began returning fire.
“Looks like the watch have gotten tired of waiting.” Lars observed, as they jogged through piles of garbage.
“That should keep them occupied for a short while.” Duren said, calmly. “While they’re busy, we’ll slip through the cordon.”
By the time the three got back to the ship, Ger was waiting at the bottom of the ramp, rifle ready.
“The watch has units in the air, monitoring the area.” He reported, quickly. “Li says it’s only a matter of time before they find us.”
Duren swore. “Well that’s this run well and truly fucked. We’ll head back to the Liberty system and figure out what we want to do on the way. Get to your stations and strap in.”
Duren climbed up through the ship and made his way to the cockpit. He ducked through the hatch and took his seat.
“How’re we looking?” He asked, heavily.
“Hard to say.” Li replied. “If we can clear the atmosphere and go quiet, then we should be home free. If not …”
“Yeah.” Duren agreed. “Same as usual then.”
“What happened? I lost contact with you all and then started seeing locals showing up.”
“Bad luck.” Duren answered, tossing his dead radio onto his station. “Wrong place, wrong time, I think. I figure they were keeping tabs on Boros. Either way, it’s a year of work wasted. We’ll probably have to move to another system and start over.”
Talaal clattered into the compartment, nodded to the two and ducked through the forward hatch into the next compartment.
“What about going back to Hovda?” Li asked. “Maybe he has other contacts.”
“Can’t trust him. He had to have known what Boros was planning and he didn’t warn us.”
“True. Maybe we should pay him a visit anyway.” Li said, flatly.
“Don’t tempt me.” Duren growled. He paused as his system updated. “Lucy’s in. That’s everyone. Get us out of here.”
Li nodded and started working her controls. “You want weapons?”
“Gods I hope not.” He breathed.
The ship shuddered as it slowly lifted from the surface.
“I’m going to keep us close to the ground and try to clear the area. It’s going to be rough.” The pilot advised.
“Do it.” Duren ordered, tightening his straps.
Li slowly pushed her throttles forward, her eyes intent on her screens.
Duren took a deep breath, then relaxed, watching his own screens, keeping an eye on the ship’s systems and on his crew’s vitals. The ship shuddered and jounced, as Li kept it in a passive, terrain following mode. They couldn’t risk using active sensors, doing so would have similar results to sending up a gigantic flare.
“There’s three patrol craft vectoring in on us. They might have made us.” Emrah called over the comms.
“Damn it!” Li swore. “Are you sure?”
“They’re locking sensors on us.” Emrah reported.
“We’re blown.” Li growled. “I’m taking us up.”
Duren grunted and activated the intercom. “Lucy! Ger! Warm up the point defence turrets. Keep them housed until I give the word. Emrah, start spoofing and jamming their sensors and comms. Talaal, have a few missiles ready to go, but don’t launch anything unless I say so.”
Li glanced at Duren, looking worried.
Duren nodded and braced himself as Li firewalled the throttles.
The Tarnished Rose, screaming along only metres from the dusty terrain, lifted her bow high, and accelerated. Some distance behind her, but closing fast, were three patrol crafts. Designated P-8’s, they were a common sight throughout the Outer Colonies. Cheap and simple to manufacture, they were only capable of atmospheric flight, but they were well armed, fast, and agile. They began rising to intercept the Tarnished Rose, spreading out to better manoeuvre.
“Faster if you can.” Duren grunted, working to overcome the pressure of several g’s of force.
“Working on it.” Li replied, calmly.
“Emrah has their long-range comms jammed, and their sensors are blind.”
“Not much good if they’ve got secure data connections to orbital assets.”
“True. Point defence turrets are standing by.”
“They’re hailing us.” Emrah reported over the intercom.
“Let me hear what they’re saying.” Duren replied.
His headphones crackled with interference for a moment before he heard the message.
“Unidentified ship, you are in violation of Shade airspace. Cut your thrusters and return to port with us immediately. There will not be a second warning.”
The ship seemed to go into freefall for a split second before returning to her course.
“They just put a shot across our bow.” Li reported, angrily. “They’re serious.”
“Keep going.” Duren ordered. “Ger, Lucy, pop the turrets, and remove the safeties.”
The Tarnished Rose flew higher and higher, her engines at full power and straining to keep the ship ahead of the pursuing patrol craft. Her point defence system, four turrets located amidships, dorsal and ventral, had risen out of their hidden compartments. They were supposed to be used for taking out missiles and torpedoes that were a threat to the ship, but the patrol craft had little in the way of armour and would also be vulnerable.
“How long?” Duren asked.
“A few more minutes.” Li answered, shortly.
“Ger, Lucy, give them a few warning shots. Try to scatter them, but don’t hit any of them.”
A moment later, Duren’s systems advised him that the point defence system had fired several times.
“They’ve scattered for a few minutes.” Li reported, her eyes glued to her screens.
“Missile launch!” Emrah shouted over the comms.
“We’ve got it.” Ger shouted back.
The ship shook briefly.
“Everything’s still green.” Duren stated calmly.
“Almost there.” Li hissed. “They’re close to their ceiling and their missiles will only be good for another few kilometres beyond that.”
“Want me to return fire?” Talaal asked, hopefully.
“Negative.” Duren responded, instantly. “Any chatter from the orbital platforms?”
“Nothing.” Emrah answered, after a brief pause. “Other than the three on our tail, no one knows we’re here. Yet.”
“We’ve passed their ceiling. Looks like they’re turning for home.” Li interrupted.
“Head for the jump point.” He ordered Li.
“And then Liberty?” She asked.
“First things first. We need to get clear of the orbital platforms. We’ll worry about where we’re going after.”
“They’re going to see us coming up.”
“Nothing we can do about that. Go dark at first opportunity and hope they don’t jump us before we can escape.”
Several hours later, the Tarnished Rose drifted through the void, her engines cold and all her viewports sealed. The ship had risen up to low orbit and then accelerated at maximum power, to bring it on a course to the nearest jump point. Li had redlined the engines, while Emrah had worked at feverish pace to break the multiple sensor locks from the various orbital platforms in range. It had been a close thing, but they’d made it, hitting the jump point and entering the Void even as several missiles homed in on them. They weren’t home free yet, but they were safe for the few hours it would take to traverse the distance between the local jump point and the primary jump point at the edge of the solar system.
Lucy and Ger glided into the ship’s mess. Duren, Li and Theo were already sitting at the table, strapped to their chairs, eating some food, while Lars floated close to one of the bulkheads.
“Did we miss anything?” Lucy asked, as she and Ger drifted over to one of the storage cabinets.
Duren shook his head. “Nothing. We’re just waiting for Talaal and Emrah.”
Lucy passed Ger a container and two squeeze bottles and closed the cabinet.
“We passed Talaal on the way up. He shouldn’t be long.”
The two glided over to the table and took their customary seats, splitting up the contents of the container between them and taking a squeeze bottle each. A few moments later Talaal drifted in, followed a second later by Emrah. They grabbed some food and drink and likewise sat down.
Everyone was quiet for a while, before Lucy broke the comfortable silence.
“So, how screwed are we?” She asked Duren.
“I won’t know until we get back to Liberty. It’ll depend on how Kaldi takes the news that Boros is probably dead, and whether he has another contract or not.” The ship’s captain replied, sighing. “But I think we’re going to have to start again somewhere else.”
“Will there be any blowback from escaping the raid do you think?” Ger asked.
Duren looked at Emrah in question.
“I didn’t pick up anything at command level before we left.” Emrah supplied. “But we weren’t exactly subtle. I’ll have to see if I can pick up any whispers while we’re charging the drive.”
“We’re probably going to be blacklisted from the system for now anyway.” Duren sighed.
“I did what I could.” Emrah shrugged. “But they got a fairly good look at us. Even if they don’t know who we are, they’ll be watching for us.”
“That’s a given.” Duren agreed. “We can worry about it later. When we’re back in Liberty, we’re going to take some shore leave. We can sort it out after.”
Ger pumped his fist and Lucy grinned. Even the usually dour Theo grinned.
“I’m going to want a shopping list though.”
“Have one ready.” Theo supplied.
“We’ll need to restock the ammo bins.” Talaal added.
“Food, water.” Li joined in. “The usual.”
An alarm buzzed from a panel on the wall, interrupting them.
“Thirty minutes.” Li informed them.
“Finish up and get back to your stations.” Duren ordered. “We’re not on leave yet.”
Li swept her eyes over her screens and flicked several switches as Duren glided into his station.
“Cutting it a little fine.” Li commented as she continued her final checks.
Duren secured his restraints, yanked them tight and made a noncommittal sound.
They worked in silence for a few minutes, making sure their systems were primed to go live the minute they were back in normal space.
“Thirty seconds.” Li announced.
Duren activated the intercom and spoke into it. “Thirty seconds. Stand by.”
The lights in the cockpit flickered a little and the ship suddenly began shuddering.
“Five seconds.” Li warned. “Three. Two. One.”
There was a sudden jolt and the ship stopped shuddering. There was a moment of silence then, a moment after the sensors came online, alarms started blaring.
Li suddenly stabbed the button that accepted and silenced the alarm.
“What?” Duren began.
“Combine ship ahead.” Emrah announced over the intercom. “It’s on an attack run on a freighter.”
“Changing course.” Li responded.
“Take us in!” Duren ordered. “Emrah, get me an ID on that ship. Talaal, activate weapons systems. Lucy, Ger, activate the point defence systems.”
“Are you mad?” Li asked, as she started changing their course.
“It’s our damned job Li.”
“Target reads as a Corvette. Probably optimised for long range reconnaissance and raiding. She’ll be quick, lightly armed, and agile.” Emrah reported.
“Lightly armed.” Li scoffed. “But still heavier than us.”
“Theo has locked down all nonessential systems, and all hatches are now sealed.” Duren observed.
“This is stupid.” Li continued. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“It’s what we signed on for.” Duren pointed out.
“I know!” Li growled. “But it’s still stupid. This is going to get us killed!”