The sun has started to go down finally and my nerves are buzzing again. I’ve got thirty minutes before the next guard patrol will check this side of the grounds. If the kid I got this information from decided to sell me out, I’ll know soon enough. I double check my connection to my jury-rigged life-line and start towards the fence. At the fence I check it for a charge or alarms and don’t find any. My snips make quick work of the wire and I slip through.
A quick optic and radio scan shows cameras in the area, but none I can’t dodge. Thank god for small miracles. There’s still about fifteen meters of open pavement between the hangar I’m using for cover and the door to the service stairwell I picked out. I peek around the corner of the hanger and see that the main door is closed. I take a deep breath and start towards the office building.
About halfway there I hear the sound of ship engines and look up. Landing lights trace the ground a little ways away. I dash to the door and watch the ships appear and then travel out of sight from where I am. The hangar I had come from opens and a truck full of armed people drives out and off in the same direction. My heart is pounding and I know I didn’t run hard. I’ve got to pull it together. I turn my attention to the door.
A standard lock that’s not networked. No risk of external hack like that. Too bad for them, I’m right here. I pop the front panel off and start working. I almost have the bypass ready when I notice the inconspicuous block with two wires in it. Explosives.
I break out into a sweat as I realize how close I am to setting it off with what I’m about to do. How could I have been so stupid? This is craz. A bomb in a door? I was about to actually blow this and the kids would still be in danger. How can I do this if I can’t even get through the first door?
My hands are frozen as I look at what’s in front of me. It takes everything I have not to turn and run. My mind starts to latch on to things about the door to replace my runaway emotions. This is a prefab, like the ones on rail cars. Doors like this are cheap but not cheaply made. They cut corners on features, not substance. Like only having one power source.
That’s it. If I can cut the power to the lock, it will come free just like on a rail car. Hopefully no power will also mean no boom. It takes me just a second to find the thick connector that is the power plug and grab a hold. I take a deep breath and hold it, then I pull hard. I hear a hollow pop and the status lights inside the door panel all fade out. No boom and I’m still here. I let out the breath I’m holding long and slow. I have to keep moving.
After a few more seconds of frantic work in the dark I’ve got it rigged to stay open for when I come back. I hear the sounds of the truck coming just before I slip into the dim stairwell. About half the lights are missing and the unpainted walls show water spots and neglect. Not a camera in sight.
The second floor door is high tech but still not networked. The indicator shows locked. The access panel is on the other side. I rack my brain for something to get past it. After a few painful minutes of nothing I lean against it in despair. It moves. The latch must not have been caught.
I can’t believe it. I open it just enough to roll a camera sphere out as I pull up the feed on my mobiGlas.
The picture shows a bright white hallway with an elevator at one end and only a few other doors. I see one camera but it is pointed at the elevator. Two big men with pistols on their hips come out from the farthest room and get in the elevator. I freeze even though they can’t see me. The indicator shows it going down. I say a silent prayer hoping they are going out to meet the new arrivals. I find the door that looks like it should lead to where I’m going. I wait a few seconds more, and then walk into the hall and head for my target.
It has an old manual handle and is unlocked. My heart skips a beat at the thought of a trap. I take the stun pistol from its holster and open the door.
I look around but find myself alone in a big room. I close the door quickly and quietly, finding myself surrounded by computer panels and monitor lights. My mobiGlas beeps. I’ve lost connection to the outside. My eyes take a moment to adjust to dim lighting once more, as I put the stunner away.
I head to the station that looks most important. It’s a system monitoring terminal that has stats on dozens of sub-systems, all of them seemingly run from this room. I sit down and dig in. The setup is incredible. Star charts, financial information, shipping schedules, even payroll information for dozens of companies. All of them must be fake and controlled from here. This is how Dirk is laundering his salvage. The kid had said one side of Dirk’s operation is legit. Not for long. There is another set of information here that’s being kept separate. Ship manifests with destinations in Banu space. Pictures of people chained together and prices per shipment labeled only as ‘cargo.’ I skim through them quickly but I don’t see any of my children in the pictures. I copy as much as I can to my mobiGlas’s storage. This is all good, but it’s not why I’m here.
After some digging I find access to the cameras and pull up all the local feeds.
I get one of each floor’s elevator door, the main entrance, the front gate, a small room with a single chair in the middle, and a few showing parts of the fence. The last feed I check is an entirely black picture. It seems out of place in such a spartan set of things to record. I check it again. It’s a live feed. Then I see something. Black moving in the black. Something small. Someone.
My heart jumps. That has to be them. The label on the feed is Hangar 4 Storage. I’d seen that each hangar has a number painted on the side and know that 4 is on the north side of the building. It’s away from all the action outside right now, but the only way in from the outside is a huge cargo door. I pull up the controls for the door and try to open the cargo door remotely. As I do, I see a red warning flag pop up and the system locks. I must have triggered something!
I need to get out of this room.
They may already know I’m here, and if they don’t they will soon. I jog out the door and make a mental note as my mobiGlas beeps its reconnection to the network.
I head around the side of the building to the north and get within sight of the number 4 hangar. Lights are flashing on each of the buildings and a siren goes off. I hear shouts behind me and the sound of ship engines revving to launch prep. I head straight to the hangar door’s access panel. This one is standard, like the one to the stairwell, but this time no explosives. I get it to open after just a few tries and I scramble underneath and into the safety lighting.
A door just inside has ‘Storage’ on it stenciled in white. I run to it. It’s another manual door but it’s been chained shut.
My wire cutters can’t get through something this thick. I didn’t bring a torch. A chain? That’s stopping me? I got past explosives and around guards and into computers and now I can’t get past a chain? I kick the lock in frustration.
Flakes of rust float from the chain to the floor.
The rundown hangar has rusting bits and pieces all around. On the ground I see a pipe about two meters long. Jackpot!
I grab the pipe and examine the chain. It’s got some links that have been repaired before. I remember the materials book I studied. The chain is more likely to break than the pipe because of the welded links. I struggle a bit to wedge it between the door and chain. Once it’s securely set, I put my whole weight into pulling. The pole starts to bend but I keep the pressure on.
I hear a pop. Then a clang and the pipe goes slack, almost tumbling me to the floor. At the same time the chain and lock fall to the floor loudly. I recover, grabbing the door handle and pulling.
Light from the hangar lights flows into the small room as seven sets of eyes all stare back at me. The smell of human waste hits me like a wall. One child is lying on the floor. All the others are standing, backs against the wall. I can see the bruises. The ripped clothes. The gauntness. The fear. But they are still alive. Thank god, they are still alive.
One speaks in a whisper, “Sister?”
I almost say yes, but Mom Super’s betrayed face flashes in my mind.
“I’m here to get you out.” I hold out my hand to encourage them. “We have to go before the guards come.”
That seems to get through to them. One, then two more start to come out of the filthy prison they’d been kept in.
Another one is standing at the back of the room next to the child who hasn’t moved from the floor.
“’em can’ null walk none.” The standing one says, looking at his companion on the floor. I rush in and scoop up the child in one hand, trying not to gag on the smell.
“Out, everyone, and then through the door, then left keep going till the fence.”
Seeing me take their weakest as a burden sets the rest of them in motion, but as I come out of the filthy closet I see a pair of trucks loaded with vicious looking people heading straight for us.
All the children have stopped with me just inside the door. They’re looking at me. I can feel the one I’m holding barely breathing.
I will not let them take you.
I slam my fist into the door release and the door comes rattling down.
I pull the stunner from its holster, aim at the door’s control panel and pull the trigger. Nothing. I pull it again. Nothing.
“Got a hold tha trig down ta shot.” One of the children said it so softly I almost didn’t hear it. It was the one in my arm.
I do as she tells me and hold down the trigger. Seconds tick by and I hear the trucks stopping. The door is starting to move again. Suddenly my stunner fires and fries the controls. Someone on the other side doesn’t like that and points a weapon through the three centimeter opening and starts to fire.
The children duck behind what larger scrap pieces are around. Someone shouts and the shooting stops. The alarm sirens are still wailing but I can hear more commotion on the other side of the door.
“Rat! ’m know you there!” It’s Dirk. “Give up, rat! You null comin’ out a there ’less ’m let you out!”
The children start moving to better cover. If there is one thing a street kid knows, it’s how to find a place to hide. I look down at the one in my arms, passed out and filthy. Helpless.
“I’m not going to let them take you.” I say softly. Then I turn my face to the door and let out all the rage and anger I can call on. “You’re not my boss anymore, Dirk. You’re nothing to me now. You’re bigger than us, and you’ve got guns, so you think you can do whatever you want. And maybe you can, but I’m not gonna make it easy. I’m gonna fight for these kids. I’m stronger and smarter than you think, Dirk. All us rats are.”
A shot rings out and I duck back behind the beam I’ve crouched next to. The bullet punched a hole in the door. Someone sticks a hook through the hole and I hear an engine rev outside. The whole door starts to creak and strain.
Another shot, hole and hook. A second truck revs up and I see the panels of the door flexing under the pull. I have to find a way out of here. I remember specs of old hangars sometimes having ventilation at the ceiling. My eyes shoot up, looking for some sign of that and I find it almost immediately.
“You all have to climb. Get into the vents. It’s a way out. Come on.”
These children have been through hell and still they amaze me as they start to climb, helping each other. I nearly cry as they break every rule of the street by doing that. The first of them gets to the opening. One after the other they disappear into the closest thing to safety I can get them to. It’s little comfort but a better chance than they had locked up.
The last one through turns around to me, “Get heading, Sister. Got get out.”
I’m still holding the child in my arms and I realize I can’t climb and take her with me.
“Go, I can’t make it, I’m too big. I have to stay and take care of them.”
I get an intense look from more than one set of eyes.
The walls start to shake, the eyes disappear from the vent and dust falls from every angle as one side of the massive front door comes crashing down. It’s still obstructing the way but once the other side pulls free . . .
I move as far back among the scrap metal and tools as possible. I can barely see through the dust. There is yelling and flashlights shining into the newly opened gap. The trucks rev their engines again and then suddenly — they stop.
Gun and laser fire pop off and I can hear a new siren. No, sirens. They’re growing louder and closer. The trucks rev up again but this time I can hear them heading away.
The new sirens get louder still and then I see flashing blue lights streak past. Then again. And again. The Blues? How?
As the dust clears some vehicles pull to a stop outside the wrecked hangar door and several large men in plain clothes get out, guns drawn.
I shrink down, still keeping an eye on them, hoping they’ll leave if they don’t find anything.
Another vehicle stops and, like a ghost in a dream, I see Mom Super get out with a uniformed Blue next to her.
My lungs burn as I take in a dust-filled breath trying to shout to her, but I only cough. I get up and all eyes move to me and the child I’m carrying. I stumble out from behind my hiding place. I have to get to Mom Super.
That thought drives me forward. I stumble and fall. One of the Blues catches me, taking the child gently from my hands and laying me down against a wall.
“Are you hurt?” the Blue asks, “are there others?”
“The vents,” I cough, “in the vents.”
The Blue shines a light to the vent opening where six children are looking back at her. I motion them down with my arm and after a long pause they start to climb out. More Blues are coming in and helping the children. Blues helping street rats. This time the tears do come.
Mom Super is here now, next to me.
“Are you all right? Are you injured?”
The concern in her eyes and voice shame me. I don’t deserve her caring about me.
I take off my mobiGlas and hold it out to her. I clear my throat with a cough.
“I got as much information about Dirk’s operation as I could. Financials, dummy corps, contacts. It’s more than enough to shut him down if you give it to the Blues. This can keep the rest of the children safe.” I’m so exhausted my arm shakes with the effort of holding up the weight of the mobiGlas.
Mom Super takes it and moves past my hand towards me. Her arms surround me in an embrace. I don’t even know what to do. I let my hands fall to my side, feeling unworthy to hold the only Mother I’ve known.
“Well done, young one.”