(I do apologize for it being so long between updates. I just recently finished this chapter, and I have been taking a break from writing lately. The RSI is real <.<)
Chapter 4: Escape
“Ashleigh Johansson you are next! Step on up here and get on the table.” The announcer stared her down, taunting her with his eyes, almost as if he knew something she didn’t. With the aid of the surgeon she found the strength to rise.
She watched, horrified as Svens corpse was simply rolled onto the floor to be cleaned up later.
She would have struggled, would have lashed out and attacked the surgeon with her fingernails in a fit of rage. But seeing Sven executed like a murderer, it took her energy away, she had nothing left. Like a placated herd animal she climbed up onto the table and lay down, she closed her eyes as the large needle was about to inject the anaesthetic into her face. Ashleigh waited, and waited, but nothing happened. Warily she opened one eye and saw the grinning face of a man above hers. He was not the surgeon, nor was he the announcer; this man had steely blue eyes and a rough brown goatee that perfectly framed the almost playful grin on his face. When he spoke his voice was smooth and had a faint accent.
“Well aye little lass, looks like you’re in a wee spot o trouble, why don’t ya stand up and we’ll take ya away from here?” Dumfounded Ashleigh sat up and looked about the room, her eyes taking in the terrorised look of the crowd, she was astounded to see all of the soldiers simply frozen in place, all of them brought to their knees by… She did a quick headcount… By six men, around the entrances she could see security guards still standing dutifully by their posts, yet on closer inspection their eyes were cold and empty. Whoever these men were, they were professionals.
“Alright men, are we ready for the little diversion from our intended path?” The six men nodded and immediately flicked their stealth generators back on. They slipped one by one into the hall, their suppressors firmly affixed on their gun barrels. They stepped into the auditorium just in time to see Sven fading into nothing on the screen. Moving as quickly as they could they neutralized the security guards with a swift stab to the spine, the injury paralyzing the guards less than a second before a knife entered their brains, leaving discreet holes at the tops of their necks, this way they stood still as though they were alive. As soon as security was dispatched the men leapt onto the stage, they took up a position with all angles covered, then appeared as if from nothing. One of them grabbed the announcer and another grabbed the surgeon, each one held a gun to their captives head, the remaining four were aiming into the crowd locking down the entire audience. O’Malley snapped the surgeons’ neck with a swift twist and leaned over Ashleigh, a playful grin on his lips. The sergeant then stole the announcers’ microphone.
“Now all of you listen up. We will be taking this lovely lady here with us. Oh no no please sit back down General. I would like you all to know that we planted antimatter explosives beneath your seats.” The Seargent was bluffing of course, but the crowd had no way of knowing that. “Now if any of you make an untoward movement, we won’t hesitate to bring you all down in one big explosion. We will be leaving now. Thank you for your time.” The sergeant pulled mocking bow then handed the microphone back to the announcer. He patted his chest before letting him go. “Alright men, lets round it up and get out of here!” O’Malley helped the bewildered Ashleigh to stand and then the men formed a protective huddle around her, they advanced out the northern exit and then began to sprint for the hangar.
“Docking control to North Bay two, close the doors immediately!” The small group burst into the hangar and raced onto the trade shuttle that was already facing in the right direction for exit. The ramp hissed shut behind them as the men dispatched the pilots and tossed them into the nearest cargo hold then climbed into the pilot seats and kicked the shuttle into the fastest take off it would ever experience. The engines whined in protest as they were forced from cold to give all they were worth. The shuttle lifted off and then raced out the bay doors as fast as it could, a quick look out the rear hatch showed the doors slamming shut behind them, they had made it. Just. As the shuttle pulled away from the argonev it twisted left and disappeared into the maelstrom of civilian space traffic, allowing it to blend in almost perfectly and avoid all retaliation from the massive star base.
“Ashleigh.” The sergeant grabbed her attention. “They killed your friend?” Ashleigh nodded. “How would you like a little bit of revenge?” The sergeant held out his hand to her, and in it was a detonator which she silently took; she still had not said a word since they left the auditorium. With a small sigh she stared out the rear hatch and pressed her empty hand to the window before uttering five words.
“I love you too Sven.” Her right thumb pressed down on the detonator and at first it seemed like nothing had happened, that is until the entire south face of the large square star base exploded in a violent ball of fire. The explosion was so powerful it knocked the star base clean off its orbit. Even as the small trade shuttle neared the edge of the gravity well and prepared for phase jump Ashleigh could see the massive hulking structure of the star base plummeting towards the planet at an extraordinary rate, she couldn’t help but wonder how many would survive the crash, if any at all. Before she could see the base land however, the stars blurred into stretched out lines and the planet rapidly shrunk in her view, they had entered phase space.
Ashleigh sat alone in the rec room of the trade shuttle, staring at the table as though she could burn a hole through it with her eyes, she did not notice as Sergeant Montgomery sat down next to her and placed a cup of coffee down in front of her.
“’Scuse me Ms… I couldn’t help but notice you seem rather down, I saw your friends’ farewell. Quite a moving experience wasn’t it?” Ashleigh stirred, shifting her gaze from the table to the dark, strong smelling coffee, she gently took the cup into her hands and sighed. “It was… Almost mean of him… to tell me in such a way, at such a time… but. He wanted to make things easy for me. But he did not know I would live… how could he know… how could I have known…” Ashleigh fell silent, a tear forming in her right eye before streaking a burning trail down her cheek. “Now I suppose I need to grow up and move past him like an adult. There is nothing I can do to bring him back.” She found herself sobbing lightly, and so buried her face in her arm; she didn’t want her saviour to see her in this state. This train of thought lead her to a sudden realisation; she didn’t know who these men were, where they were taking her or what their intentions for her were. “So anyway…” She sniffled and rubbed her nose, wiped the tears from her eyes and sat up. “Who are you people? You seemed fairly professional in the argonev. If not a little playful…”
“Well ma’am we are, the screaming Baantuus. Finest Special Forces team the rebellion has to offer! We are at your service on this particular trip. Although, I must say we were not expecting to run into you at all and your rescue was rather impromptu.”
“I’ve heard of the Baantuus.” Ashleigh struggled to contain her emotions, pulling her mind back together and stiffening slightly she sat up, almost rigid, as if she were back in military mode. “You chaps caused the loyalists a ton of trouble when you took out that fuel depot over Astra. I must say I always wanted to be the one to eliminate the Baantuus, even though I had no idea who they were. I suppose it’s irony that I now have them to thank for saving me from my death. Thank you…” Ashleigh paused, realising she didn’t know whom she was addressing at all.
“It’s Montgomery, and you’re welcome. It’s a pity we could not save your co-pilot, his skills would have been invaluable to us all. I am sorry for your loss ma’am.” With a resolute look on his face Sergeant Montgomery rose and turned to leave.
“It will be several hours before we exit phase space, I suggest you get some rest until we do. Unfortunately this shuttle was grabbed as an improvisation, so I don’t have a proper bed to offer you.”
“This chair will do fine.” Ashleigh turned her attention back to her coffee mug, gazing into the dark liquid as though she might see something, the fluid was still however. “Thank you again…” She looked up to find she was already alone in the rec room and so she tried to get as comfortable as she could and settle in for some sleep. No matter how many times she tried to distract herself with mental tasks such as reciting the operations manual for her Marzas’ bridge, or even something as simple as counting sheep, her mind was always drawn back to that room, only, she was alone, staring at the massive Tv screen, watching Sven recite his final speech to her, over and over again. When Ashleigh finally did drift off to sleep, it was with the image of Sven locked firmly in her mind.
Ashleigh was awoken by a small shudder and quiet hum that told her they had exited phase space. With a slow, weary gait she rose and made her way to the shuttles cockpit, she was introduced to the rest of the team by Sergeant Montgomery.
“Now here she is, everyone. You all know who this lovely lady is; make sure you show her respect, she is one of us now, a fugitive on the run from the loyalists.” The sergeant gestured to the various men that made up his squad. “This is McNeal; he is a quiet chap hailing from the Jupiter system.” McNeal offered Ashleigh a light nod of acknowledgement as she took him in, his shoulder length brown hair was showing the signs of grey streaks, not from age it seemed, but a life of hard stress. His eyes were as black as coal and that seemed to shield him from intrusions, she could read nothing from this man. He seemed as though he would be a man of about 6’ 4” if he were to stand. A light dusting of 5 O’clock shadow lay on his chin, one might say he was the spitting image of handsome, and despite his height he had a thin yet muscular build. “McNeal is my second in command, but he is also a brilliant marksmen and combat specialist.” Montgomery then gestured to a smaller man, who was sitting in the corner with what looked like a computer, shoved inside a briefcase, he seemed intent on the work he was doing. “Come on tweedy, do say hello to our guest.”
“Huh? Oh… right. Forgive me Ms sometimes I get so engrossed in my equations, uh. hello.” Tweedy, as they called him, looked as though he would stand at 5’6” as a rough estimate, he wore a pair of glasses that seemed as though they were for blocking the sun, but they seemed to have small devices attached and Ashleigh swore she saw lights flickering inside the lenses. Tweedys’ skin was a smooth, almost flawless brown, and he had short black hair, that curled up around his ears, this did serve to match the wisp of a beard he was sporting. His size was rather diminutive height wise, and it didn’t seem like he had a whole lot of muscle mass to him. He looked as though he would have trouble holding a rifle, and yet, Ashleigh had seen him holding one in the argonev, and even wielding it with ease. “Tweedy here, as we affectionately call him, is a real whiz kid. He is a genius when it comes to machines, robotics, phase space and all forms of chemicals, in fact, he makes the majority of the explosives we use.”
“Sir.” McNeal interrupted. “We’re ready to initiate docking procedures with the Vandal.”
“I’m sorry Ashleigh but it seems the rest of the introductions will have to wait, it’s time for us to depart.” Ashleigh nodded and took the offered seat, her gaze turning out the front window, she swore she saw something glinting for a mere second, but she had no idea what the vandal was, and she certainly couldn’t see it. Suddenly, a hole in the stars appeared before the shuttle, like a large black maw in space opening up to consume them, Ashleigh merely watched in awe as the small shuttle drifted into this black hole into a well-lit docking bay.
To anyone who had been watching the shuttle as it flew along. It would have seemed as though it simply disappeared into a point of space. Meanwhile, the passengers had disembarked the shuttle and were now leading Ashleigh to the bridge of their custom cruiser, the Vandal. Ashleigh was amazed to find the docking bay was actually connected to a rather large ship, there were corridors spanning off in all directions, however she was led to the bridge and offered the captain’s chair which she gratefully yet hesitantly accepted.
“The Vandal is a special ship you see.” Montgomery caught Ashleigh’s attention as he began to explain various points and perks about the ship. “Lightly armed, with only flak cannons and a pair of Pulse lasers, but she is equipped with the latest cloaking technology.”
“Cloaking technology?” Ashleigh wasn’t even aware such a thing existed on a scale this large. She had heard of hiding people, but never hiding an entire cruiser.
“Well yes, it’s amazing what the TEC and Vasari can come up when working together. It works by projecting the image of what is in that immediate direction, in the opposite direction, basically, whatever is in front of it, shows up on its behind, and vice versa. This works in tandem with the internal heat sinks which allow for a reduced emission signature, making us much harder to detect with even the highest grade sensors.” Ashleigh was listening intently, so intently that she didn’t notice the sudden blurring of stars in front of her, nor the appearance of a massive orkulus star base, Its umbrella like stalks appeared through the distorted hole in space, followed soon by the thin stalk like midsection of the base, and finally the bulbous bottom section emerged and the hole sealed behind it.
“Vandal, this is the star base ortuga, good to see you in one piece boys.” An unidentified male voice crackled in over the comms, snapping Ashleigh from the attentive trance she had been in. She did a double take when she saw the giant star base hulking in the view screen.
“Relax Ashleigh, they’re friends.”
“You mean to tell me the Vasari and the TEC are friends now, despite what happened?” Montgomery chuckled softly to himself and shook his head, how naïve the loyalists had kept their commodore.
“Not quite. But certain… elements, within the Vasari Empire do not believe in the ways of old, and they decided to look for alternative teachings, they found a quick, albeit strange home, in the arms of the rebels, aka us. Of course when they came to us they brought technology and knowledge, you would be amazed at many of the things we have developed since, when TEC and Vasari work together and share tech they’re very productive.”
“Sir, the base is transmitting co-ordinates now, they’ve dropped the phase node and they’re pulling out.” And as swiftly as it had appeared, the massive star base flashed and disappeared into the unknown.
“So…” Ashleigh couldn’t help but ask. “Why did we need a star base to deliver that phase node?” she was staring at the small point of glinting metal in the distance.
“We didn’t. But we wanted to be prepared, had we been tailed the ortuga would have been there to get our backs. However we slipped away unnoticed, so it could merely drop the phase node and leave, we’ll be catching them up soon.”
The Vandal approached the small round object, that sat glinting in the light from the systems sun, it seemed as though this system was abandoned, Ashleigh hadn’t even discovered where they were. There was a small clunk as the ship grabbed onto the metal ball with a pair of mechanical arms that placed the ball into a special compartment within the bottom of the ship. This was followed by a loud whirring sound, and suddenly, space opened before them and the entire ship was swallowed into the tunnel of phase space. This tunnel seemed, different… to Ashleigh, she was used to the calming turquoise of the regular phase lanes, but this was just blackness, there was nothing, no light, no stars. It seemed to strange.
“You see, we’re not on a regular phase lane, or any phase lane at all.” Montgomery seemed to have noticed Ashleigh’s confusion. “Currently that node in our hull is homing in on its partner node, and carrying us on what you could call a shortcut across the stars. There is no chance of us being tailed through this phase trip, and it would take a month to reach our destination through regular phase lanes, but we will be there in several hours thanks to our unique tunnelling tech.” Ashleigh simply nodded, still a little taken aback by the prospect of blackness. She settled in and began to mentally prepare herself for whatever lay ahead, Sven always prevalent in her mind.