“Okay well when you’ve got a more positive conclusion on that, let me know,” Fiearius said. “For now, let’s get on with it.”
“We’ll keep in touch, Cy,” said Leta. “Stay safe.”
“Yeah, you too,” Cyrus said, his voice hollow. He disconnected the COMM and settled his sights on the ship, now descending behind the mountain into the base’s hangar. It still didn’t feel right, regardless of what Fiearius thought. He only hoped he was wrong.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Fiearius wasn’t much for planning. Generally, he preferred to throw himself into the chaos and then decide on the course of action. Studying had never been familiar to him. He’d never sat down and studied anything in his life, as far as he could recall. So when Cyrus had suggested — insisted — that they spend a number of hours hunched over the Blackwater’s blueprints to memorize the best route from the ventilation ducts to the main entrances, he had groaned and only complied begrudgingly.
Now that he was actually inside the base, though, he was glad he’d done it. Beside that first guard on the way in who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, they hadn’t run into a single agent. Maybe that nerd was onto something after all.
He and Leta had crossed first through the maintenance areas, where the workers wouldn’t be about until much later in the day. Then they’d taken the back route through the barracks which had been abandoned for the morning fitness routine. It wasn’t until they hit the living quarters that they even saw another human being and even then, it wasn’t a very threatening one.
“Ya think we should write something on his face?” Fiearius whispered to Leta as he stood over the couch where a young agent was sprawled out haphazardly. His limbs were splayed out in all directions, his mouth hung open and a line of drool was dripping from it onto the pillow.
Leta cast Fiearius a glare and held a finger over her lips to shush him.
“Oh relax, he can’t hear me. Can ya?” he asked the sleeping man. His uniform shirt was crisp and new. The librera tattoo on his arm was still shiny and fresh. A new recruit. Who, by the looks of him, had suffered the new recruit treatment. Fiearius had never been on a Society base himself, but the scene was still familiar. Nostalgic, even.
“If all they’ve got to offer is Captain Hangover here, I can’t say I’m that intimidated,” Fiearius muttered, looking back at Leta who had already crept to the other side of the room and was gesturing for him to follow.
“Can we please move on?” she whispered hurriedly.
He joined her as they moved on into what must have been the cafeteria. Lining the walls were posters Fiearius had seen before, many years ago, but never in this magnitude. They showed images of Carthian cruisers and battleships exploding in midair, their military’s insignia in a circle with a thick line through it, Carthian officials standing before Society prisoners. Emblazened across them were pointed slander, empowering calls to action and warnings to watch out for traitors. But what got his attention most were the handwritten additions. The thick pen marks scribbled over the Carthian faces, the angry slurs jotted down beside them. Blatant propaganda as the posters may have been, they were clearly doing their job.
Leta must have noticed too.
“I didn’t know the Society hated Carthis this much,” she muttered as they made their way across the cafeteria carefully.
Fiearius shrugged. “Well Carthis used to be part of Exymeron. They defected right around when the Society came to power.”
“Doubt that’s a coincidence,” Leta remarked.
“The Council didn’t think so either,” Fiearius agreed. “Nor were they happy about losing all that territory. Which is why the two have been slowly fighting over it for the past century. Carthis wants its border planets back and…well, Exymeron wants the whole damn thing back.” He gestured to the area around them. “Thus the base.”
“Sure, I’d expect that from the Council,” Leta admitted, as they passed more propaganda posters. “The everyday people though…”
“It’s kind of just part of the culture. If you’re in Exymeron, you’re supposed to hate Carthis. All of our economic problems are blamed on them. Anyone goes missing, it’s a Carthian spy who did it. Bank gets robbed? Carthians. Even in school, they teach the 2nd Division War with them as flat out villains and Exymeron as dashing heroes of the disenfranchised. We’re just ingrained to despise them.”
“And yet your best friend is ex-Carthian military.”
Fiearius grinned at her as he gently eased open the door into the corridor. “What can I say, I’m a rebel.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, another voice reach his ears. At once, he pulled the door to a quiet shut and went very still. The voice (voices? One sounded male, the other female) were coming closer, growing louder.
“Well what the hell is an A-class destroyer doing here?” the man said as Fiearius sidestepped against the wall beside the door, his hand on his gun. Leta went very still, sliding him a look of alarm.
“I don’t know,” said the woman. “No one knows. Her pilot won’t even say. Not even to the commander. And I guess the clearance is high enough that there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The voices were close now, just outside the door. Fiearius’ grip on the gun tightened. “You think it’s a spy?”
“What? No way.” And they were coming closer. “No way some Carthy scum could get a hold of one of those.” And closer. “They’ve got the best security out there.” Fiearius heard the thud of hands meeting the door. “The thing’s one of ours, for sure.”
Before his eyes, the door swung open. Fiearius’ breath caught in his lungs and his body stiffened against the wall. The click of heels hit the floor as the two figures marched into the cafeteria.
But if they knew anyone was watching, they didn’t show it.
“Anyway, whatever’s going on, we’ll probably never know,” the woman went on as the two continued on, oblivious of the two intruders not ten feet behind them. “If it’s that high level?” She scoffed indignantly. “Let’s just find Patterson and get back to our post before we all get in trouble.”
They were halfway across the room by now. Fiearius felt his shoulders loosen and Leta beside him slowly let out a quiet breath she’d been holding. He met her eyes briefly and nodded towards the door beside them. She nodded back and as silently as he could, he put out his arm and pushed open the door just enough for Leta to tiptoe through it. As soon as she was in the corridor, he slipped through behind her and the last thing he heard as the door slid shut was, “I can’t believe how drunk they got him last night. I’ve never seen someone puke so much in my life.”
Now safely in the hallway, Fiearius finally released his hold of his gun and let out a sigh.
“That was a little too close for comfort,” Leta whispered. “What was that about? That ship? They said it was high level. Do you think Cyrus was right about it?”
“Could be,” Fiearius mused, though he’d shifted his attention to figuring out exactly where they were. He stalked a few paces down the hall where the path split in two. “But we’re already here so I guess we’ll just have to find out the hard way. All the more reason to let the cavalry in as soon as possible.” He glanced back at her. “I’m afraid this is where we part ways. We should hurry.”
Leta nodded. Amazingly, she did not look particularly worried.
“You know the way, right?” he said.
“Of course.” Leta furrowed her brow. “Wait, do you?”
“My memory’s not that bad,” he told her with a frown. “Alright, let me know when you’re in your position, I’ll let you know when I’m in mine. We should try and get the doors open at the same time and keep a similar pace if we really wanna catch ‘em off guard. Attack from both sides of the complex at once.”
“And meet back in the center, right.” Leta nodded.
For a moment, Fiearius felt himself soften. This was the first time he’d sent Leta off on this kind of mission alone. He knew she’d be fine. No one fought as hard as Leta at anything — she’d certainly been through enough by now to come out of this okay and there was nothing like a strong motivation to keep someone fighting. She would be completely fine. But logic aside, he couldn’t stop the smallest swell of worry that this was a final goodbye.
He cupped her cheek in his hand. “Take care of yourself, okay, kiddo?”
Leta just smirked. “Don’t call me that.”
She put her hand over his, squeezed once and said, “I’ll see you soon,” before turning down the hallway.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Adrenaline spiked through Leta’s veins as she crossed down the other hallway, darting as quickly and quietly as possible through the maze of corridors. Now that she’d parted with Fiearius, she felt her senses sharpen as she strained to hear every footfall and voice, but the path was quiet, just as well planned as the first leg of the journey. She’d have to thank Cyrus for his diligence later.
Occasionally she heard a far-off mumbling or the sound of footsteps on the level above her, but never did she see any matching figures. Only long concrete halls and creaky pipes all the way. She honestly believed she might really be able to complete this mission without a single hiccup. Right up until she turned the corner towards the entrance corridor and her heart went still.
Two guards. Flanking the double-doors. They were clad in all black, their expressions sullen and bored as they paced around, but they were heavily armed.
Naturally, Leta’s first encounter with armed agents happened when Fiearius was already several hallways away. He could’ve made short work of these two. But no matter. She’d prepared for this. Though her main assignment was shutting down a couple security systems and a locking mechanism, she’d known there was a chance of more human element blocking the way.
She had just hoped there wouldn’t be.
Crouched on her legs, Leta carefully slid out her handgun from where she’d tucked it into the small of her back. Then she inhaled tightly through her nose, stood tall to her feet and crossed forward as if intending to burst through the doors, guards be damned.
As predicted, both men wheeled around and then jolted in alarm, registering nothing but shock as they reached for the guns at their hips.
“Sound the alarm! She’s — not — sound the alarm, sound the — !”
But Leta never gave them the chance to sound the alarm. In one swift motion she directed her pistol at one of the man’s hips and squeezed the trigger, and then again at the other man’s leg. Two decisive metal ‘plinks’ erupted through her silenced pistol and dissipated through the corridor, and then Leta was stepping past them as they dropped to the floor, bloody and howling in pain. Fortunately, she didn’t think anyone was nearby enough to hear them.
But they would be alright. They were hurt and for the moment immobilized, but she knew where to pull the trigger so the bullets wouldn’t prove fatal. As accustomed to the Dionysian and the ‘space pirate’ life as she may have become, never would she kill in cold-blood: she did just enough to injure the men, enough to keep them out of her way, as she pulled open the double-doors to the entrance corridor and threw them closed behind her. At once, their wailings were silenced.
Still, injured as the men were, that did not mean they wouldn’t recuperate and call for backup. But she was so close to backup of her own, it hardly mattered.
Quickly, Leta took stock of the new setting: it was a long corridor ending in one of the only two doors into the base and it was momentarily empty. Leta crossed over the shining floor to where a console was embedded into the wall.
Just as she started typing away as Cyrus had taught her, Fiearius’ voice crackled in her ear.
“Hey, I’m at my console, not a damn soul in sight. You okay?”
“Run into any trouble?”
“Only a little.”
“Alright, cameras and alarms are off on my end.”
“Let’s do this.”
Taking a deep breath, Leta hit the unlocking mechanism and the double-doors at her side glided open soundlessly. Outside, in the bright light, stood Quin. Surrounding her was her small army of at least fifty gunhands, and Leta could not help but grin as she said, “Hey, come on in.”