PROLOGUE: THE HEIST
The supply hatch for the N202-C merchant class cargo carrier burst inwards with a rush of decomp; the inner pressure of the room beyond suddenly reversed and the unsuspecting pair of guards inside were first slammed against the opposite wall, then sucked into oblivion. The emergency oculus began to spiral closed, but not before two black clad soldiers took advantage of the surprised gasp the ship took as the automated systems scrambled to assess and recitify. Black boots and gloves narrowly crossed the slithering metal portal in time to avoid a shave closer than they’d like.
“We’re in.” Jayne’s voice crackled on the comms. Her blacktint spacehelm swiveled towards her partner. His bobbed in accordance.
“Loud ’n clear, Cap’n.” Digg and his brogue merrily cheered the airwaves, as if the blarney could cross subspace and offer the luck of the far flung Irish. There was a hidden smile under the tint, grateful.
“Gunnar.” Jayne nodded towards the door console, and he stepped forward with another silent nod. He opened his right forearm and pulled out a junction cord, plugging it into the relay. A few breaths passed, tense and tight, until the red haze of emergency repressurization turned green and internal locks would open. That is, if Gunnar was able to release the permissions that kept the alarms from carooming through the ears of every gun weilding merc on this boat.
Three breaths, four. No Klaxons, but Jayne was ready to swallow her pounding heart by the time the lights faded from yellow to green and the locks disengaged with an audible clunk and shift of machinery. Thankful predictability opened the service doors to a deserted network of maintenance hallways. The ship schematics stretched over the heads up display in her helm were delightfully accurate.
“Th’ ventilation shaft should be ahead. Y’ll need t’ go two levels up t’ bypass th’ secure holds then back down two t’get t’the main corridor.” Digg’s cheery brogue followed their advance into the hallway.
“Up two, down two... And then?” They sped through the halls, heedless of the thump of boots on grated steel. Once inside the maintenance tubes, Jayne and Gunnar both activated the GEKO apparatus in their suits. Fingertips and boot soles hummed and Jayne pressed a hand against the smooth walls of the shaft. She gave it a little tug, testing the hold against the sleek metal, and satisfied put her second hand overhead and began to spider climb upwards. Gunnar filed in behind, with his view restricted to boots and backside as they ascended.
Gunnar had no complaints.
They continued climbing, bypassing the first offshoot and taking the second, crossing two more bulkheads before making their descent headlong into the passage. At the end, a panel emptied into another of a long series of corridors. “First starboard corridor, then next one on port.” Digg’s instructions came on cue.
“Digg... we’re in space.” Jayne replied in a fierce whisper. “It’s all starboard!”
Gunnar shook his head. “Right, then left,” he growled over the comms, exasperated.
“Are you sure?” Jayne looked down, or up, past her hips into his upturned, or downturned, viz-shield.
“Why the hell are you asking me if I’m sure? Don’t you thnk I’ve done this enough?” She knew he wore his frustration aboard his face as he barked back at her, even if his shield was completely opaque from her vantage. Being upside down didn’t exactly make for great observation.
“Is this the right time to be discussing this?” Jayne remarked coolly, establishing a connection to the shipboard computer via her bracer pad.
“Left, then right.” Digg corrected his instruction in time for the panel to slide open and grant Jayne and Gunnar access. Jayne lowered herself through the opening and neatly folded at the hips, righting herself before she dropped quietly to the floor. Gunner landed in a crouch behind her, nearly as soundless. Smirking beneath the viz-shield, she shushed him unnecessarily, and could feel his glower. “I know you’re making faces at me in there.” Jayne straightened and followed the HUD map and Digg’s directions at a light footed jog. Gunnar followed, grunting a wordless reply that held a range of possible translations, all of them impolite.
Aboard the Skirmish Class SK626, currently bearing the cote d’arms of Colonia Unitas and the whimsical name “Indiana”, Digg chuckled affectionately. He had a cropped shock of ginger hair with silvered wings and a pale set of greyish blue eyes, like a cloudy summer day. His scarred old countenance was marked as much by pox as battle, and while gaining a paunch in his age, still was the beefiest stick pilot this side of the galaxy. Jayne and Gunnar’s progress were a pair of blue dots racing through the schematic maze on his holo-console. The faint blue three dimensional image wavered slightly, and Digg raised a ham sized fist and slammed it down, making the row of bobble headed figurines dance their discontent. The haze and waver solidified immediately as he sat back with a satisfied sigh. He reached left, depressing the internal comm switch and spoke into the air. “E. Be ready for extraction.”
The comms crackled for a moment before a series of clicks came in reply. Emilio, a swarthy boy of indeterminate age and barely pubescent year, was tucked diligently in between the walls of the ship, with a screwdriver tucked behind one ear and a spanner between his teeth. Digg nods, fitting his hands over the controls and began Phase Two.
One corridor left, then to the right, Jayne and Gunnar chase through the halls. A trio of mercenaries loitered in the hall, chattering about something that was lost when Jayne turned the corner and took a step up the wall, vaulting into a kick that knocked the words from one’s mouth. The other two fell back, stumbling and fumbling their rifles into function. However, Gunnar was soon there with a flying knee doubling the second merc over as Jayne and gravity brought down the third. Jayne quickly pushed the business end of the rifle with her forearm and the heel of her free hand came down in a crushing throat blow. Gunnar followed his knee strike with a stabbing blow to the nape of the merc’s skull and separated important, life sustaining, brain activity from the rest of his unsuspecting body. The first to fall, scrambled backwards for some room to rearm, but could not outrun the sizzle his face made when Gunnar reholstered his laser pistol.
“How are we doing, Digg?” Jayne called out on comms continuing her progress with Gunnar dogging her steps.
“Take your next left, immediately turn right, and you’ll be at F corridor.” The two pick up speed as they take the left then immediate right, then come to a skidding halt. F corridor looked suspiciously like the mess hall. An occupied mess hall, with a contingent of armed mercenaries holding trays of something indistinguishable, and looking as equally as stunned to see the two masked intruders.
“Uhm. So, How’s lunch?” Gunnar pulled Jayne out of the doorway as it erupted with laser blasts.
“F corridor is no good. F corridor is no good.” Gunnar shouted breathlessly over the comms, firing behind him with one hand and pushing Jayne ahead him with the other.
“E!” Digg cried over internal comms. “Time for plan B!” From within the walls, E halted his sparkbending with a groan and sent his clicking reply back over the comms.
Racing through the halls, Jayne ducked down one corridor and grabbed Gunnar before he ran passed. Their boots echoed off the walls as they broke into a hard run. Crossing another bulkhead, Jayne was able to slap a hand onto the emergency blast door switch, cutting off their pursuers for the time being. Jayne struggled to catch her breath, scanning her surroundings for her HUD map to catch up with their positions. Satisfied after a moment’s reexamination, she opened comms again.
“Digg. We’re here. Starting second phase.”
“Phase two is a go, Cap’n.”
Jayne turned back towards Gunnar, disengaging her helmet and pulling it off for a few breaths of non-cycled air. She gave a quick shake to her chestnut hair and rake an arm across the sweat on her brow. “Gunnar, go secure the exit. I’ll head to the control room.”
“For the record,” he sounded tinny outside the helm. “This is a bad idea.”
Jayne lifted her mouth in a lopsided smile and shrugged. There was a rather ominous glitter in those dark brown eyes. “Won’t be the last.” She replaced the helm and locked it into position. Her viz-shield lowered as she nodded, and Gunnar returned it solemnly. Here they would go their separate ways, and engender their cooperative objectives.
Jayne would reach the control room as the virus Gunnar had planted began to chew through the ship’s operating systems. The doors slid open with a hiss that went unnoticed. Alarms were blaring from every station on the bridge, crossing complaints of issues that shouldn’t happen with what should not even be possible. Something popped, sparks arching through the air and bouncing white hot and indecisive on the ground.
One large fellow, alone on the bridge as all hands have gone to repair phantom problems or find the troublesome intruders, slammed his hands onto the console, enraged.
“There, there now Vagnar.” The man swung his gaze over a broad shoulder to see Jayne leveling his pistol at him calmly, smiling behind her viz-shield. “Don’t hurt yourself … it’s bad for you.”
“Dr. Jayne.” Vagnar snarled, turning around with deliberate slowness. He was a tower of a man, all rippling muscle and littered bodily with scars that ripped through his dark skin with jagged white lines clear up to his bald scalp. “So good of you to come. I was beginning to think you had forgotten.”
Moving closer, with deceptive nonchalance, Jayne let her smile leak into her voice. “You, sir, are very hard to forget. But I am trying.” Squeezing the trigger took nothing, a flicker of muscle, and a blast streaked into Vagnar’s knee with a sizzle and a scream. Jayne expected a flood of satisfaction...a herald of vengeance done. Trumpets. Something.
Nothing. Vagnar tumbled to the ground with a curse and if eyes had pinioned her with hatred before, it was nothing compared to now. Somewhere, something pinged and whirred. “Ah, that must be for me.” Jayne meandered in a lazy circle, keeping her blaster pointed at her quarry, as she crossed the bridge and pulled the a wafer thin square of crystal from where it was ejected. Vagnar watched, seething.
“This won’t end here, Doctor.” He enunciated the last irony through pained grunts. “I know who you really are.”
Jayne cheerily waved the data crystal in response. “Let’s just keep that little secret to ourselves, shall we?” One more squeeze and the nightmare she’d been chasing across the stars would be forever gone. She aimed for his face and pulled.
“Gunnar?” Jayne stepped over Vagnar’s prone body and rushed forward towards the massive transparisteel viewports. A grand vista spangled with distant stars stared back. At their apex, Gunnar rapped on the transparisteel from the outside. Jayne held up the data crystal “I’ve got it, let’s get out of here.”
“This is stupid, there has to be another way.”
“Not a faster one.” Jayne was no longer looking at him. Instead, she focused on her blaster’s controls.
“You’ll have half a second before the emergency shields drop.” Gunnar fretted.
“Then you’d better be damn fast.” After a complex combination of button taps, she set the blaster against the viewport and hopped back a few steps. Tucking the data crystal into her breast pocket, she dropped into a runners crouch. The blaster began beeping, then beeping faster. Jayne let out a slow breath and stretched her legs in readiness. The beeping from the blaster began one continuous tone and Jayne began to run towards the viewport.
There is no sound in a vacuum.
The explosion was cut quickly short, all fire, debris, and anything not tied down, including one Dr. Amelia Jayne, was sucked into the oblivion. She tumbled end over end until Gunnar slammed into her, arms locked around her waist, and thrust their trajectories towards the waiting “Indiana”, drifting on it’s wingtip alongside the cargo cruiser. The hold doors were sliding open, a silent maw in the dark, and swallowed them both.
As gravity and pressure are reestablished, they both came crashing to the hull floor. Peeling off their helms they coughed and groaned and tried desperately to make some sense out of their tangled limbs.
The bulkhead locks spun then swung open, Digg and Emilio fair falling through trying to gain access to the hold.
“E, Digg” Jayne struggled to her feet, barely able to repress her grin. “Get us out of here. I’ve got it.” Jayne dug the data crystal from the pocket and held it aloft. “I’ve got the last piece of the star chart to Earth That Was.”