August 23rd 2013
Gates slugged the live feed to the command terminal, then had a moment of vertigo as the view wobbled, Seabrook climbing out of the Caterpillar’s conning chair and moving for the hatch.
“Yes, quite clearly.”
“Good. You ready?” she asked, her hand appearing in the view as she reached for the access patch.
He gave the question a moment’s honest thought as she moved from the bridge and headed toward the airlock. The op was cobbled together on short notice, with no real resources but the balls and brains the two of them brought to the table. That and the aged Avenger Seabrook had managed to track down.
They’d had two breaks that made the plan feasible: first, while they still weren’t sure Morgan was being held against his will, Seabrook had managed to find out where, as of five hours ago, Morgan was. Second: given the covert nature of Les Inconnus operations, there didn’t appear to be heavy security on the station.
“Gates?” she asked, hand poised to open the airlock leading from her ship to the station.
“It’s a go,” he answered.
“All right.” Seabrook put her hand to the panel and left her ship.
It would take some time for her to reach the core of the station, so Gates checked his navcomp feed. He’d put the Avenger she’d managed to scare up for him into a gradual approach vector meant to overtake the station in about ten minutes, at which point he’d start talking to them about getting service. In the meantime, Gates scanned the ships currently docked: the Caterpillar Seabrook had IDed as the one transporting Morgan was still there. The two other vessels appeared legitimate customers, there for maintenance, upgrades or to meet the company’s shipping needs.
Seabrook had been the one to see the last group as their way in: she’d falsified a manifest indicating she’d been contracted to transport some parts for Nemonautics and was supposed to pick them up here. Gates didn’t like counting on them not having the parts on hand, but the company reps seemed to have bought the story.
“Hello,” Seabrook said, dragging Gates’ attention back to her.
“Captain Tolliver, I’m sorry for the delay, but we’ve had some problems getting shipments in lately.”
The view bobbed slightly as Seabrook shrugged. “So long as I’m not in breach of contract and you’ve got someplace I can cool my heels for a bit?”
“Sure, we can put you up —” the rep tapped a few commands into his console, “— on deck thirteen, cabin eight.”
“Thanks. I am a bit tired of looking at the same bulkheads, if you know what I mean …”
Careful, he might start thinking you’re into him, Seabrook. Ops have gone south with less reason …
The rep smiled, waved his hands at their surroundings, “Tell me about it.”
Relieved, Gates sighed as his fellow agent stepped onto the lift and pressed the plate for deck thirteen. “Still tracking?” she asked after the door closed.
“Yes, you’re coming in clear. According to your data, we may have lucked out. Your room is just one deck down from Morgan’s.”
Seabrook whistled tunelessly as the decks sped by without anyone else boarding. It seemed they’d chosen well when deciding to extract Morgan late in the local night. The door opened, revealing a short hall. The room she’d been given was on the right side about half-way down. She entered, put down her ruck, and started stripping off her flight suit.
She pulled the hood of her deadsuit up and held her breath as the mask settled into place. Once it started cycling her air and damping her heat signature to ambient, Seabrook unpacked her compromiser and a small holdout pistol, then slipped the empty ruck into the expandable backpack of the suit. Deadsuits scrambled her image on the cams and would spoof heat-sensors, but wouldn’t do anything for actual eyes-on observers.
She used the compromiser to kill the door logs and returned to the hall. Instead of heading to the lift, Seabrook made her way to the emergency shaft and ran the compromiser over the panel. It took a bit longer than the hatch to her quarters, but eventually popped. The emergency escape shafts were meant to be easy to open, but Seabrook didn’t want the automated escape protocol activating. She entered and started up the ladder.
“How we doing for time?” she asked, breathing easily.
“Good. I’ll start hailing the rep in about two minutes.”
“Thought he was going to hit on me.”
Gates grinned, glad she couldn’t see him. “Me too. Good job keeping it professional.”
“Men. My figure is about as obscured as it gets wearing this thing under a flight suit, yet you still want some action.”
“Hey, you won’t catch me ogling.”
“So you admit you have been?”
“I admit nothing.”
Seabrook chuckled, came to a halt. She tapped a command into her compromiser. The live feed from it was simulcast to his feed, taking the place of her view. The hallway outside the emergency hatch wasn’t empty: a thick-necked man, his entire being screaming goon, stood at the end, right in front of the hatch to Morgan’s.
Poor placement, a part of Gates’ mind reflected even as Seabrook cursed under her breath.
“That’s not good,” Seabrook said.
“No, it’s not. Ideas?”
“Should have checked the security system before making a move, dammit!” her frustration was quiet, but no less intense for it.
“Couldn’t risk tipping them off before you got on-site. Any new ideas?”
“Screw it, I’ll do it now.”
“Tap in and take over the system. I’ll get this guy out of the way. Be ready to pick up the pieces.”
“Gates, don’t ask me that. You want this jackass or not?”
“You know the answer.”
“Then shut up and let me work.” Seabrook leaned against the far side of the shaft, stripped the flexible keyboard from her compromiser, and set to work.
Gates’ comm showed another incoming transmission. He took the call. “Vagra Five Five —” it took Gates a moment to recognize the Avenger’s identifier, ”— this is Harmony Maintenance Station Alpha. We show your course as an intercept. Do you require service?”
Gate keyed the mic, “Harmony Maintenance, this is Vagra Five-Five. My ship does need maintenance, can you send me a list of services and your rates for an Avenger?”
“Thanks. Do you have an open berth?”
“Yes, sir, what do you need?”
“I’m a few hours over the scheduled maintenance on my drives.”
“A couple hundred.”
An almost suppressed snort, “Just a few, eh?”
“Money’s tight just now.”
“Well, we have plans for every budg–“
“I’m in, Gates,” Seabrook’s transmission over-rode the service call.
“All right, I was just on th–“
“Yeah, he’s not going to be calling you back, bigger problems just started lighting up his boards. I’m going in. Be ready.”
“Copy.” Gates pushed the throttle up.
In the feed, Seabrook took a deep breath and pressed a final key. The station’s emergency sirens started blaring, deafening even through the speakers.
In the security cam, the goon turned toward the hatch to Morgan’s room.
Seabrook popped the emergency hatch and launched herself at the goon. She was on him, fast: open hands connecting with his shoulder, arm and back. The deadsuit discharged with a dull crackle each time she struck. The goon sagged to the floor, out cold after the second strike. The third was either caution or nerves; either way, Gates approved.
The hatch opened under her hand.
Morgan was standing, naked and bleary-eyed, in the middle of a small, unfurnished room that certainly looked like a prison cell.
Relief flooded Gates, surprising him. Guess I hadn’t realized how much I hated the thought of his betraying me.
“Morgan, you want out?” Seabrook asked.
“On me, then,” she turned and started for the emergency hatch.
“Where we going?” he asked, following her.
“Out!? I ain’t even dressed!”
“I noticed, but the last thing you need just now is clothes.”
She pulled the hatch open. “Emergency bubbles ain’t that big, you know.”
“Damn,” he said, turning to face Seabrook, then back to the emergency tube.
Something coughed several times in quick succession. A red hole appeared in Morgan’s chest. Red spattered the inside of the lift tube behind him.
Seabrook grunted, swung around and raised her pistol, snapping several shots down the hall. Gates had a glimpse of the open lift door and a fresh pair of goons standing inside, one of them holding a carbine.
Both goons ducked back into cover. Seabrook shoved Morgan through the open hatch, watched as the automated life-pod system deployed. Morgan, blood smearing the life-pod, shot from view as the system sent him to safety.
More mechanical coughing from behind Seabrook. She staggered against the hatch, grunted, “Damn, that stings.”
Realization struck Gates: The goons are using frangible bullets to avoid piercing the habitat — pounding on her, but the deadsuit should hold.
She rounded on them, sent them back into cover with several more shots, then stepped into the emergency chute, slamming the hatch closed. The pod activated, quickly surrounding her.
Gates slowed, saw Morgan’s pod shoot from the station, and altered course to pick him up. That done, he set up a comm link, “Morgan?”
A cough, a wet, organic one this time, then: “Look at that, I’m bleeding.” Another cough, “Gates. Should have known it would be you. I’m sorry. Don’t have much time, so listen: Commander Gilles Stroller, Naval Intelligence. He’s the inside man. Based on Nemo. Got the address for you … Get him … Make him pay …”