Aftermath (Part 8)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     The door was unlocked, and opened onto a dimly lit empty grey corridor. Neither direction looked particularly distinguished, but from the outside the main complex had lain to the right. Kirrik shrugged and set off that way, Marchero tagging along behind him.
     They moved along many more corridors, heading in the direction they guessed was the heart of the base as they passed from one interconnected building to another. They had met no-one in the first three, the dim lighting suggesting that it was "night time" there.
     The fourth building was more brightly lit, and they began to move with greater caution. The corridors were often replaced with open areas, an empty canteen and a couple of recreation rooms.
     One of these rec rooms had a separate section behind a glass wall. Randomly scattered around it were comfortable chairs, and in one of them was slouched a human man, apparently asleep. A book lay on the floor beside him.
     Kirrik watched the man for some time, peering around a corner. He didn't move, and his eyes appeared closed. Eventually Kirrik left his cover and slowly walked into the room, motioning for Marchero to remain hidden. He crossed the room without the man in the chair moving. At the far side he signalled to Marchero to re-join him.
     When they were both safely out of side Kirrik peered back around the corner.
     "What are you waiting for?" Marchero hissed at him.
     "Making sure he's not waiting until we're out of site before raising an alarm," he whispered. "Keep an eye on the other direction."
     After five minutes Kirrik quietly said "Right, let's move. I can't afford to keep watch all night."
     "How much longer is all night?"
     "I haven't a clue. Tell me if you see a clock."
     The fifth building was equipped as a sports hall and gymnasium, and was empty.
     At the entrance to the sixth voices could be heard, and the frequent tramp of feet. "So much for night," Marchero murmured.
     "I think we're coming to the central areas," Kirrik pointed out to her. "They're probably running a shift system with different habitats on night at different times. Let's have a peek at them."
     Crouched behind the door he watched the movement outside. In ten minutes about thirty people passed by, mostly humans but there were five humanoid aliens of varying species. They were all dressed differently except for a dark green waistcoat with a curious emblem on it, a star flash with an arrow through the centre.
     From inside his clothing Kirrik withdrew an odd collection of rods and levers. He spent a few minutes screwing them together to produce an undersized looking crossbow. Marchero regarded it curiously.
     "Very handy little thing, this," he told her. "Almost silent, no power cells or explosives to be detected by the sensors and no energy discharge to alert them either. Unrecognisable to the untrained eye when it's in pieces, too."
     "That's official equipment, is it?" Marchero asked him.
     Kirrik laughed shortly. "Unofficially."
     He waited until the corridor was empty apart from one person, and casually shot them in the head with the crossbow. He jumped out into the corridor to pull the body out of site before anyone came looking.
     "Get the waistcoat," he told Marchero, while he turned back to await another victim.
     Marchero eyed the body with some distaste. A fairly young human woman, quite attractive. Or she would have been was it not for the flighted bolt sticking out of the side of her head, holding in all but a thin trickle of blood. She reluctantly removed the waistcoat from the limp torso.
     "Drag the body somewhere out of site," Kirrik instructed her without turning. Before Marchero could protest he hissed "Stop, quiet."
     The person now approaching down the corridor on their own was another woman, older and with a hint of grey in her hair. Kirrik raised the crossbow and fired.
     The bolt was not quite on course, and scraped the side of the woman's skull before clattering off the far wall. The woman yelled in pain and alarm. Kirrik swore and leapt out of hiding at her. The would-be victim recovered incredibly quickly from her surprise, and caught Kirrik's arm as he rushed at her. She twisted round and sent the Disian careering into the wall. Kirrik rolled himself along the wall out of her way as she attempted to kick him.
     As the woman moved to attack again she collapsed suddenly as Marchero came at her from behind and landed a blow at the base of her head. Kirrik started to drag the inert body away when the sound of voices came from down the corridor and around the corner at the far end.
     "Damn," he muttered as he wrenched the waistcoat off. He noted Marchero was already wearing hers, and he shoved her down the corridor away from the voices. A few seconds later he ran after her and jumped around another corner before the approaching people noticed him or the unconscious woman.
     Shouts from behind and the sound of running feet announced that the body had been found. Kirrik removed the spacesuit backpack and stowed it in his bag, and started to put on waistcoat as they moved. They darted round another corner into a much more busy corridor. The green garment fitted Kirrik tightly, but nobody seemed to pay any attention to him.
     Three men came running from behind them. Kirrik and Marchero walked on, ignoring them. Their pursuers were heard swearing as they were unable to determine who was responsible in the stream of people passing this way and that.
     "Now what?" Marchero asked quietly. "Presuming you don't intend to murder everyone here."
     "Look for a computer terminal," he replied. "And stop looking so tense, for goodness' sake. The alarm will have gone up by now. Draw any attention to us and we're dead."
     Such a terminal was nowhere to be seen in the passageways. They wandered around randomly for some minutes until Marchero stopped by a door that looked no different to a dozen others they had passed.
     "What are you doing?" Kirrik demanded.
     "Back down the other end of the corridor I saw someone walk out of here. Didn't see anyone inside, and there's a better chance of finding a terminal in here." Kirrik grunted in response.
     There didn't seem to be any security locking on the door, and it was opened without any problems. The room was indeed empty of people. Electronic constructions of unknown purpose lined the walls and covered two heavy benches in the centre of the room. Also on the benches, enshrouded by strange devices, were three fragments of twisted metal.
     Kirrik tossed a datapad to Marchero. "Find the terminal and plug this into it," he told her, and then turned to the benches.
     Marchero searched through the paraphernalia surrounding the walls until she found what she hoped was a standard SysInf socket. The pad accepted it without complaint. It did nothing for a few seconds, then beeped quietly. "Download complete," flashed on it.
     "Download?" she asked Kirrik.
     Kirrik was hunched over a bench, poking at various switches and studying displays with intense concentration. He either ignored her or hadn't heard her.
     "Download what?" she repeated.
     Kirrik looked up angrily. "I'm busy. Watch the door."
     Marchero scowled at him. "Catch," she called, throwing the pad back at Kirrik. It clattered to the floor.
     Kirrik turned around again. "Just pay attention, all right? And stop messing around."
     Marchero folded her arms and looked straight at Kirrik. "Or what? You'll shoot me, because it's convenient? Cold-blooded murder doesn't seem to bother you, after all."
     "I do what's necessary. If I was to do whatever was convenient you would have been dead a long time ago."
     "Oh, yeah, sure. The end justifies the means and all that," she retorted sarcastically.
     "This, coming from someone who tried to get a convoy shot to pieces to get at one person?" he replied with some surprise.
     "I've explained that several times, and the fact that everyone else would have got away."
     "How very convenient. And how is killing someone in a petty personal vendetta any better than doing it in a greater cause?"
     "That's worrying. I always worry when people start babbling on about 'Greater causes'. They can start justifying any atrocity in the name of the greater good. And if they can officially get away with it then they've got too much power."
     "What a fascinating speech. I suppose if we're attacked then it's fine to kill someone in defence? Possibly several people, even. Or just one or two to prevent that."
     "Hah. What a transparent excuse."
     "So you hold everyone in the universe with a combat rating greater than 'Harmless' in contempt? I can't see you as being quite that naïve. I believe you are 'Competent' yourself." He turned back to examining the bench. "Save your moral arguments for later," he said, not bothering to look at her. "For when we have the time."
     Marchero tried to bite back, but was ignored. Eventually frustrated by the lack of response she finally watched the door.
     It wasn't long before Kirrik stood up. "Found it!" he said, quietly but enthusiastically.
     "Found what?" Marchero snapped.
     "That these are pieces of the Constrictor!"
     "The what?"
     "None of your business."
     Marchero was starting to turn red, her temper clearly about to go again.
     "OK, it was a secret ship that was stolen, and then destroyed. Satisfied?" He picked up the pad from where it had been lying on the floor, and connected it to the computer interface again.
     The answer hadn't told her much, but seemed to have averted another argument. "And the computer?"
     "You downloaded some dataprobes. If Kalangu has done his job properly they should be able to sneak their way into secure data and arrange for it to be collected on this." He waved the pad. "They've also been set to pull out any other useful information. Like a map."
     Marchero raised an eyebrow curiously. Kirrik thumbed the pad's controls.
     "The map's there," he said. He scanned through a little more of the stolen data. "Uh-oh," he muttered.
     "What's up?" Marchero asked quickly.
     "These bits of rubbish here," he said, gesturing towards the metal on the bench, "are just hull plating. They were made with a new technique, but it wouldn't be worth all this effort for them. Apparently a ship is being built, though, right here. And so are some very unusual shield generators for it."
     "Which suggests that was part of your 'Constrictor'," Marchero guessed.
     "Yes," Kirrik replied, looking at her darkly. "According to this they had enough pieces of the shield generator to work out something. The specs aren't as good as the originals, but it's still bad, bad news."
     "So let's get that ship, then!" Marchero announced.
     "I suppose so," Kirrik said dubiously. "It's probably in the most secure area here."
     "Does it say why they want some high-tech shields so badly?"
     "No," Kirrik admitted.
     "Then the answer might be on that ship."
     Kirrik agreed with this. "Wait a minute, though. I need to skim through the rest of this."
     He had only been studying the pad for a few seconds before the door opened.
     The man who had been about to enter the room stopped in surprise.
     "Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
     "Construction wants a check on the hull material," Kirrik bluffed.
     "Right." The tone was sarcastic. "So they send someone who hasn't a clue about procedure." Too quickly for Kirrik or Marchero could react he pressed a button beside the door. Kirrik rushed forward to attack the man. He quickly managed to shove him out of the way, and both Kirrik and Marchero darted out into the corridor before he could stop them.
     Before they could make an escape, though, both ends of the corridor filled with soldiers, armoured plating covering their bodies and laser rifles held ready.


I'm aware that there is a slight similarity here to another Elite story, in that someone gets up to no good with old-fashioned weaponry. This is entirely coincidental, and I hope it makes sense here as not just a copy of an idea.

I also very, very briefly considered having the datapad burn out when Marchero plugged it in, and her commenting "I'm a navigator. I'm not supposed to be able to tell a computer socket from a power terminal", but decided that was just too corny.

Part 9
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