Aftermath (Part 10)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     Kirrik groaned. "Look at me. I'm hardly in a fit enough state to do anything for myself, let alone you."
     "Too bad," Aeyris replied. "You'll have to pull through, and soon. It won't be long before your absence is discovered, and then its going to be very difficult to do anything."
     "I can barely walk!"
     "I've enough medical supplies to get you on your feet, if it's absolutely necessary."
     "Whatever," Kirrik conceded. "I need a few answers, first."
     "Such as?" Aeyris asked curiously.
     "Who are we dealing with. What are they doing. What are their goals."
     "Supposing I don't know?"
     Marchero laughed at him. "They've already tried this one on me."
     Aeyris looked suspiciously at her. "What do you mean?"
     "When I was dragged into this. His lot," she nodded at Kirrik, "seemed convinced I knew everything, and weren't happy that I didn't. Kirrik was the worst of the lot on the way here."
     "Hang on. Who are you? Not with the Navy?"
     "I was forced into this by threats, just because I had a vague idea about where this base was. I used to work on a freighter that delivered here."
     "Oh, wonderful. What's the use of you, then? I should have left you in the dungeon. Still, we need everyone we can get. Make yourself useful and I'll let you live."
     Marchero shuffled uneasily on her seat. "I'll do whatever I need to to get back at them."
     "What about my questions?" Kirrik asked pointedly. "Can we keep to the conversation, please?"
     "Your pet here is right. I don't know much," Aeyris told him.
     "They call themselves The Gateway. What to, I don't know. They've got some shipbuilding project they seem obsessed with, although they seem to have just about finished with it now. I've access to some of the cameras in its construction hangar."
     Kirrik eased himself forward until he was sitting upright. "Can I see them?" he asked eagerly.
     Aeyris shrugged. "OK." He talked briefly to one of his guards, who then left the room.
     When the man returned he was carrying a hand-held monitor. Aeyris played about with it for a few moments. "Here you are," he said as he passed it to Kirrik.
     The monitor showed a large hangar, cranes and gantries hanging from the ceiling. One wall was covered with screens, although what they were showing was impossible to see. In the centre of the hangar stood a strange ship, about the size of a Cobra MkIII. Dull grey in the hangar's lighting, it was roughly rectangular, blunt-nosed and somehow menacing. Scaffolding covered some of it, but robots were in the process of dismantling the metal web.
     "Bloody hell," muttered Marchero, who had moved round to stand behind Kirrik and view the monitor.
     "That's it," said Kirrik.
     "Your Constrictor?"
     "Yes. This is not good. I was hoping they wouldn't have had time to map out the ship that completely before it was destroyed."
     "If they managed to get the plans away before it was blown up why did they need the pieces?" she demanded.
     "How should I know?" he replied, his tone angered.
     "Can't you guess?" she replied with some exasperation.
     "A complete guess would be that their information was incomplete, or at least needed confirmation. I was expecting them to fit the new parts to an existing design."
     Aeyris had been listening curiously to this. "You know what they've got here, I take it. Would you mind telling me?"
     Kirrik briefly covered the origins of the Constrictor, and a few of its unique features. He pointed at the monitor. "This thing here is probably a bad copy, though. Hopefully it won't be as capable as the original."
     Aeyris sat thoughtfully for a few moments. "I would think your concern is more what they intend to do with it than what's in it. But that can wait until I don't need your help."
     "Very well. How many people have you here?"
     "Eighteen." Aeyris paused before adding tersely, "Out of fifty-two."
     "We're going to need that ship then."
     "You're crazy," Aeyris replied flatly.
     "From what I saw on the way all the large ships that come here dock on that platform. You'll never manage to ferry that many people over there."
     "How did you get here?"
     "In a Viper. It's probably been discovered by now."
     Marchero chuckled. "GalCop's not going to be happy when you loose their toy."
     "Fine, then, something must have brought the Viper here," Aeyris insisted.
     "Perhaps. But it's not coming all the way here. It would be far too dangerous," Kirrik declared. "Look, that pseudo-Constrictor is the only ship here big enough to take everyone. Even then it's going to be hard."
     "You're assuming that it holds the same number of people as your stolen one," Aeyris pointed out.
     Kirrik shrugged, a movement made awkward by his injuries. He grimaced at the effect of the gesture on his battered body before saying, "That had a crew of ten. The life support systems were designed to cope with twelve. You'll probably loose some people trying to take it, anyway."
     Aeyris jumped to his feet and rushed over to Kirrik. His raised his right hand to hit the Disian, but controlled himself with obvious effort. "If I loose any more people," he snarled straight into Kirrik's face, "I'll hold you responsible. And avenge them on you as much as The Gateway."
     Kirrik hadn't flinched during this threat. He waited until Aeyris backed off before saying, "You live a high-risk business. People get killed when doing dangerous things."
     "How can you be certain that there's no other ships with the capacity? We've seen the odd Fer-de-Lance on the cameras. Crew of twelve, and usually room for several more. And there's one here right now." Aeyris returned to his chair.
     "Whatever we leave in, they're going to try to blast it as soon as they see it. If they've built that ship right it's probably the only one here that stands a chance of escaping."
     Aeyris didn't reply, but Marchero murmured to Kirrik, "Or are you just refusing to leave without it?" He ignored her.
     Eventually Aeyris said, "We'll take the Constrictor. It's in the nearest bay to us, and the more of the base we'll have to go through the greater the chance of being stopped."
     "It's also going to be the most heavily guarded!" exclaimed Marchero.
     A harsh smile appeared on Kirrik's face. "When they interrogated me I think I left them with the impression that there area couple more of us here. Looking for our phantom companions is going to keep them out of mischief."
     "Well?" she asked the pirate captain.
     Aeyris held his hand out to Kirrik, who passed the monitor back to him. He looked thoughtful. "The place is swarming with soldiers, mostly in the area you were first seen. Which isn't all that close to here. There's a few standing around the hangar, but it'll be possible to take them out. Seems you've fooled them well enough, if they are only leaving enough people to mind against a couple of others." He stood up and ordered his own guards to bring together the rest of his people.
     They arrived in no order, sixteen men, women, and unknown, not counting Aeyris and the two who had been notifying them. Two were non-human, one a strange insectoid being and the other a humanoid giant, eight feet tall, with huge muscles under sparse brown fur. All were dressed untidily and randomly. Amongst them was the medic that had attended to Kirrik earlier. Under Aeyris' instructions he returned to the Disian, using up several of their limited medical supplies on him.
     After a few minutes of random chatter Aeyris called them to order. Some sat in empty chairs, others slouched around the room.
     "These two," he began, waving at Kirrik and Marchero, "seem to think we can get out of here. They've stirred up a hornets' nest, anyway, and if we don't leave we'll doubtless be dug out soon. And we're going on that strange ship we've all been wondering about for so long." A babble of voices broke out, some surprised, some eager, and some clearly thinking that their leader had gone mad.
     Aeyris eventually had to shout some of them down into submission. Grumbling to themselves, they fell silent.
     "There's not much to say until we're on the ship. Anyone we come across on the way, take them down quickly. We're dead if they can call in help. If there are too many lurking around a corner then wait. Keep all weapons on minimal power. Only go up if you see someone in armour. It doesn't matter if we kill or just put to sleep. Arrachachak, take the cannon anyway. You've got five minutes to arm yourselves and assemble outside. Go!"
     They filed out, apart from the medic, who was still working on Kirrik. Two minutes later he too left. Kirrik stood, grimacing slightly.
     "Can you make it?" Aeyris asked.
     "I'll do. Come on." He walked from the room, Marchero and Aeyris following.
     A dozen people were milling around outside. Some of them were buckling on armour, mostly consisting of DurFibre breastplates and helmets. They carried a variety of weapons, mostly light laser blasters, although three were armed with rifles and the giant, Arrachachak, had a huge cannon balanced on his shoulder, connected to a power-pack slung onto his back. It looked suspiciously like a light ship-based pulse laser with several of its systems removed and handholds welded on.
     A few other people were emerging from a nearby building. Aeyris led Marchero and Kirrik to it. The building was an armoury, various weapons lay scattered around tables inside. Pieces of broken armour were piled in a corner, and a few heavier weapons stood against the walls. Aeyris took a rifle for himself, and picked out laser pistols for Kirrik and Marchero. "Stay at the back," he ordered them.
     They rejoined the rest of the group, and moved out of the cavern. At the end of the tunnel one of the women eased back the panel slightly and held a scanner to the gap. "All clear," she announced. The panel was pulled clear, and the cargo canister on the far side pushed out of the way. The first two through ran through the room to its door, and stood at either side with their weapons held ready while the rest of the group emerged from the tunnel.
     The area beyond the door was scanned, and again announced clear. Through the door Aeyris took the lead, his crew trailing behind him. Kirrik and Marchero were not quite at the back, behind them was the insectoid. Its eyes sat on the end of stubby antennae, which it could turn to both see where it was going and what was behind it.
     As it had been when Marchero was brought to the pirates this area of the base was still deserted. They moved quickly but cautiously for a while, until Aeyris held his hand up to halt. He looked to the woman with the scanner, and jerked his head towards the corridor junction they had been approaching. She advanced, and crouched down just before the corner. Turning back to the rest she pointed left, and held up one finger. One of the pirates moved forward, but the woman signed to him to wait. A few seconds later she signalled with thumbs up.
     They moved off again, turning right at the intersection. The next corner was clear. They had not travelled far down this passageway before they stopped again, this time beside a door. It opened suddenly, without a chance to scan.
     The room was large, with robots standing in rows on one side. They appeared inactive, at least they paid no attention to the opening of the door. More robots lay on diagnostic benches, with half a dozen technicians working on them.
     Several of the pirates reacted instantly, opening fire on the surprised technicians. The weapons were barely audible, operating on minimal, but the effects were noticeable. Four of the techs were caught and sent crashing to the floor. The other two managed to hide behind the dismantled robots. The pirate group rushed into the room and ran around to find them. As they passed around the corner of the benches a laser blast caught the man in the lead in the chest. He was without armour, and was thrown back with a scream. The second attacker was also struck, but he was wearing armour and it was strong enough to protect him.
     The shot had come from one of the techs, who had found a pistol from somewhere. He had paused to increase the power of his gun, but before he could fire again he was also stunned. The final man was desperately searching a table. He was also taken down before he found what he was looking for.
     Some of the team went with the scanner to ensure the rest of the room was secure. Others jammed the door they had come in through. The medic examined the technician's victim, but it didn't require much medical skill to see that he was dead, an ugly hole burned through his chest. "Unlucky bastard," the medic told Aeyris. "Right in the heart." Aeyris swore, stamped over to the unconscious defender, and kicked him hard.
     It was not long before the scanning group returned. "Let's get on," Aeyris announced. "Stay moving as quickly as possible."
     They passed through a series of rooms, mostly workshops of various kinds. People were in some of them but were removed without any more difficulty. In one room a confused robot rushed around babbling nonsense. Arrachachak grabbed it with his spare hand and smashed it against a wall.
     When they came to the last of the rooms they were faced with an open door, beyond which people could be seen walking past.
     The group gathered out of site of the door. "We're nearly there," Aeyris whispered to them. "Most of those people are unarmed, so we'll just rush on. Shoot anyone who gets in the way, but don't waste time chasing them down. Someone will escape to raise the alarm within two seconds of us passing that door whatever we do. Set weapons to full power, and hit anyone carrying a weapon. Arrachachak, blast the hangar door as soon as you see it."
     As they rushed out into the corridor people started shouting, some running off either way, others attempting to block the attackers. After five of them had been shot the rest turned and ran, yelling for help. The pirates were running now, two of them carrying Kirrik between their shoulders, who was still not in a good enough state to keep up with this pace.
     The rush continued. A few more people who tried to stop them were killed for their efforts. They passed through two doors without any serious opposition, but a pair of soldiers met them around a corner. Laser fire shot out in each direction, and the soldiers did not last long in its face, but they managed to hit one of the attackers. A woman of about Marchero's age caught a blast that sent her crashing into the man behind her. Two pairs of hands hauled her upright, her face grimacing in pain at the wound in her side.
     When they passed through a third door Aeyris' followers found themselves in an empty passage. They paused to examine the wounded woman, but she had already died. She was gently lowered to the floor, and then they hurried onward.
     The room passage opened into a vast hall. Trucks loaded with miscellaneous equipment stood scattered around it, and a number of people and robots were running around, sprinting in and out of other entrances. On the far wall was a huge pair of doors, in front of which were eight heavily armed and protected soldiers. Accompanying them were two guard robots.
     Two of the soldiers remained at the door, the rest of them rushed out to meet the attackers. Another flurry of laser fire, and the advancing soldiers were down, as well as five more pirates. The rest of the people there disappeared as fast as they could. Long range shots between the remaining two guards and the pirates were largely fruitless. They ducked back through the doorway as the robots also opened fire with frightening high-speed blasts. Another attacker, the insectoid, was injured, loosing an arm. It appeared to take no discomfort from the injury, though, and with another limb was firing back.
     Some bolts caught the robots, with no effect. A slight shimmering distortion around them indicated shielding.
     "Arrachachak!" Aeyris yelled. The giant had braced himself against a wall, and was trying to aim his cumbersome weapon. A hideous screech, almost a bang, as it went off. The blast missed the robot, blasting a portion of the wall out. The human guard nearest to the impact was flung aside, where he lay twitching on the floor. The robot shuddered, but continued firing.
     "Hurry up!" Marchero yelled at him. "Fire again!"
     "Just keep shooting yourself, and leave the cannon to Arrachachak," one of the pirates snarled at her.
     It was ten seconds before the cannon had cooled down. The next blast caught a robot straight on, obliterating it. So did the third, taking out the final guard with it. Aeyris himself took a glancing hit in his left leg.
     When the cannon hit the doors they buckled under the strain, but stayed in one piece. It took two more shots to open a hole in it, but as soon as it did they left their cover and ran for it, Kirrik and Aeyris being helped along, and Arrachachak wincing at the effort after the bruising jolts he had received each time he had operated the pulse laser.
     They all made it through the door, some picking up nasty burns from the cooling, twisted metal. As Arrachachak ducked through the gap dozens of soldiers appeared in the hall behind them. Arrachachak took several steps back from the door, and loosed his cannon upwards. Without anything to brace against he was hurled to the floor, smashing the power pack on his back. From above, though, came a pile of twisted metal as the cranes and gantries that had been torn free from the shot crashed down to block the door.
     They were in the hangar, fourteen of the twenty-one who had started. No other people could be seen, only service robots who were oblivious to anything that did not directly concern them. And in the centre of the hangar sat the new Constrictor.

Part 11
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