Children of Darkness: Chapter 7
Do you need to get caught up? Read Chapter 1 here
Marcus spent the day losing to Vlad at chess while they waited for his people to get everything ready for their escape attempt. In the early evening, a young man with a shaved head and goatee came in and whispered in Vlad’s ear.
The old man nodded and got to his feet. “Thank you, Erich. It’s time.”
Marcus stood as well and they shook hands. “Thanks for doing this.”
Vlad smiled. “See the package delivered and I will consider myself well compensated. Best of luck, my boy.”
Solomon got up from the chair where he’d been messing around with a borrowed computer. He nodded to Vlad and joined Marcus by the door. They followed Erich down the stairs to the rear of the building. Marcus paused and looked back at the antique shop, wondering if he’d ever see the place again. He hoped so.
They found a delivery truck attached to a trailer loaded with crates hovering in the alley behind the shop. Three hard-eyed men sat in the cab, some of Vlad’s leg breakers. “You two hide in the back,” Erich said.
Marcus climbed up into the truck then reached back to help Solomon. They shoved crates filled with liquor bottles around until they had enough room to sit down out of sight. Once they settled in the truck took off. He couldn’t see much out the back of the trailer. After fifteen minutes the truck came to a stop at the train station. They’d hired a flatbed car to carry them to Spaceport Two.
After a short wait the truck moved again. When it stopped a few seconds later the hair on Marcus’s arms stood up as a force field engaged to hold the truck in place.
“Do you think this will work?” Solomon asked as the train raced through the tunnel.
“It’s a little late to worry about it now,” Marcus said.
“What do you think’s on that disk Vlad gave you? Where do you think we’ll have to take it? Do you think—”
“Solomon! You need to calm down. If you lose it we won’t have any chance of getting through this. Once we get off the planet all your questions will be answered. If we don’t it won’t matter. Now take a breath and get your shit together. I need you focused.”
“Right, right, I’ll be ok. I just hate waiting.”
Marcus nodded. He didn’t like waiting either. “It won’t be long now.”
The static vanished and the truck started moving. They must have reached the spaceport. The main hovertrain platform wasn’t far from where they landed the Star. Not more than a minute later a voice shouted. “Halt!”
“What’s the problem?” That sounded like the young man.
“This ship is off limits. Turn that piece of junk around and get lost.” They’d reached the ship at least, so far so good.
“That can’t be right. I’ve got a delivery to make and this is the pad the boss sent me to.”
Boots scuffed beside the trailer. Someone was walking beside the truck. Marcus readied his gauntlet. A face appeared above the tailgate, and Marcus shot a stun bolt into it.
“What the hell!”
Another weapon crackled when someone stunned the second guard. He typed a command into his gauntlet to open the cargo bay doors. The truck started forward. It rocked as blaster fire hammered into it. Nothing penetrated and Marcus assumed they’d reinforced the exterior. The angle changed when they went up the ramp.
They leveled off and did a one eighty. Marcus jumped out of the trailer, Solomon following right behind him. The trailer clicked as the coupling disconnected from the truck. “You’re on your own,” the young man shouted. The truck raced back down the ramp, blaster bolts pouring into it and out of it as Vlad’s men exchanged fire with the Earth Force agents.
As soon as the truck cleared the ramp Marcus fired up the shields. He hadn’t seen anything on the tarmac that could penetrate them. “Secure the trailer and raise the ramp. I’ll start the preflight checklist.”
“The abbreviated version,” Solomon said.
* * *
Marcus had finished half the preflight check when Solomon burst into the cockpit. “We’ve got company.”
Now what? He flipped on the rear monitor and spotted three skiffs armed with heavy cannons racing toward them. As he watched, the back two fired on the one in front. Someone leapt out. He twisted a dial and zoomed in on the figure lying on the concrete. Iaka, of course.
“She’s in trouble,” Solomon said.
No shit. “She is trouble.” Marcus activated the auto-guns and targeted the two remaining skiffs. A vibration thrummed through the hull when the cannons fired and blew the skiffs to bits. “Hold her steady.”
“Where are you going?”
“Where do you think?” He left the cockpit and punched in the command to open the ramp. It had lowered when he reached the cargo bay so Marcus just kept running. A shiver passed through him when he slid through the shield.
Don’t think, keep moving.
As soon as he got close Marcus could see her chest moving, the blast didn’t kill her at least.
He smacked her on the cheek but she didn’t stir.
Marcus looked up, a hovercar raced toward them at full speed. Two men had their heads sticking out and blasters in their hands.
Marcus grabbed the front of Iaka’s shirt and slung her over his shoulder.
Blaster bolts whizzed by his head.
He headed toward the ramp as fast as he could.
He stumbled when a blast grazed his leg. Just a few more steps. He gritted his teeth and staggered onto the ramp. A tingle passed through him and he was through the shield.
He limped up the ramp, pausing to hit the switch to close it as he went. The hydraulics engaged, but he continued past without pause. It felt like Iaka gained ten pounds with each step he took as he moved deeper into the ship. He reached the spare room and dumped her on the cot. First aid would have to wait.
“I finished the preflight,” Solomon said as he collapsed in the pilot’s chair.
“Good.” Marcus engaged the antigravity generators, retracted the landing gear, and powered up the engines. “Now we’ll see if Vlad’s hackers are as good as he thinks.”
Solomon looked over. “Your leg.”
“Forget it, it’s just grazed.” Hurts like a bitch though.
Marcus eased the ship over to the airlock and held his breath. After a long minute the doors cracked open. “Yes!” they shouted in unison and shared a high five.
As soon as the doors opened enough for them to fit he eased into the airlock. They’d be less apt to shoot if they feared damaging the mechanism. Once he cleared the inner doors they closed, so far so good. The inner doors sealed and the outer doors started the slow grind to open.
“Come on, come on, come on,” Solomon muttered.
The doors stopped about a quarter of the way open. “Earth Force must have regained control,” Solomon said.
“No kidding.” Marcus powered up the main cannon. The doors started to close. He targeted the hydraulic cylinders and fired. The cylinder burst, and fluid sprayed everywhere. The door stopped closing. He let out a breath. “All right.”
Marcus rolled the Star on her side. “Are we going to fit?” Solomon asked. “I don’t think we’re going to fit.”
“Will you shut up? I’m trying to concentrate.” Marcus watched the readouts as he eased closer. Damn, maybe they wouldn’t fit. Metal screeched on metal then they shot free. He accelerated out into space. “Damage?”
“Everything’s green. I bet our paint job’s gone to hell.”
“I can live with that.” Marcus hit a switch and they shot into hyperspace.
He grimaced as the adrenaline wore off. His scorched leg screamed for attention. A pain killer would hit the spot, but they had other things to do first.
“You ok?” Solomon asked.
Marcus offered a grin he hoped looked reassuring. “I’ll live. Scan the ship and make sure they didn’t tag us.”
Solomon worked for a moment. “I’m picking up a micro band transmission. Can’t pinpoint it though.”
“Damn it! Charge the hull.”
Solomon typed a command that sent an electrical current through the ship’s hull to fry any electronics attached to them. “We’re still transmitting.”
“They must have gotten a bug inside.”
“Obviously, but how? The ship’s been locked down.”
Marcus slapped his forehead. “I think I carried it on board. Come with me and grab a scanner.”
They went to Iaka’s room and found her still unconscious. Convenient, now they could scan her without an argument. “You’re up.” Marcus nodded toward the girl.
Solomon ran the scanner down her head with slow, meticulous care. “You know this is getting to be a habit. It’s not her implant.” He continued scanning. Halfway down her chest the scanner beeped. “Here we go.”
Marcus manipulated his gauntlet, changing the weapons module from stun to focused EM wave emitter. “Where is it?”
Solomon drew a circle in the air above her right shoulder. “I can’t get any more specific with this piece of junk.”
“That’s close enough. Get back.” He activated the emitter and blasted Iaka’s shoulder with electromagnetic energy.
“You got it,” Solomon said. “Transmissions have ended.”
Marcus deactivated the emitter and switched it back to stun. He had ten percent power remaining in his gauntlet so he slid it off. “Now we need to have a chat with Iaka.”
“How’re you going to wake her?”
“I’ll get a stimulant.” Marcus went next door to the galley and drew a cup of icy water. He went back to the spare room. “This ought to do it.”
He threw the water in her face. Iaka sat up and gasped. “Where?”
“Take a guess,” Marcus said.
She groaned. “Not again.”
“Yeah, now there’s the matter of the tracking beacon. It’s fried but just to be safe we should find it and get rid of it.”
Iaka finished drying her face. “Wait, what?”
“So you didn’t know. Good. I’d have felt like an idiot if you set me up. Now how about you take your shirt off and we’ll see if we can find that bug.”
“You wish. I’ll check myself, thank you.”
Marcus sighed. “I’m pretty sure it’s on your back. There’s no way you can check yourself. Besides we’ve already seen you naked. Looking at your back isn’t a big deal.”
“Fine.” She turned away from them and pulled her shirt up.
Solomon’s face flushed bright red. Sweat beaded on his forehead. His eyes focused on the side of Iaka’s breast.
Marcus punched him on the shoulder and pointed at her back. Solomon swallowed and nodded. They both looked around her right shoulder.
“Found it,” Solomon said.
“Where?” Marcus couldn’t see anything.
Solomon pointed at a small black dot. “It’s a tick bot. It burrows under the skin and leaves a tiny bit of transmitter showing. They’re hard to spot. I’ve never seen one myself, but I read about them. Can I keep it after we dig it out?”
“Can we move this along?” Iaka asked.
“Sorry,” Solomon said.
Marcus stepped out and got a med kit from the hall storage bin. He pulled out a laser scalpel, tweezers, and a spray to numb the area. As they waited for her shoulder to numb Solomon continued. “It’s a good thing we fried the tick first. They’re designed to burrow deeper if you try and remove them.”
“I did not need to know that,” Iaka said. “My shoulder’s numb.”
“All right, hold still.” Marcus made a small incision then traded his scalpel for the tweezers. A moment later he pulled the bug free. “Got it. I’ll apply a layer of synth-skin and you should be all set.”
Iaka pulled her shirt down and turned around. “So what happened? Last thing I remember was the skiff getting blasted out from under me.”
Marcus just finished telling her about their escape when the alarm sounded. They’d be leaving hyperspace in one minute. “Come on, Solomon. You can play with your new toy later.”
Solomon looked up from the speck of metal he was attempting to study without the benefit of a magnifier. “Okay.”
Marcus led the little parade to the cockpit. A moment later the ship shuddered and the rings of Saturn appeared in the view screen. He killed their momentum.
“Now what?” Solomon asked.
“What time is it?” Marcus asked.
“Quarter to twelve.”
Marcus displayed the data chip Vlad had given them. “In fifteen minutes we find out what our escape cost.”
“What’s that?” Iaka asked.
Marcus explained how Vlad had helped them escape from Mars in exchange for making a delivery.
“You know Vlad Valcore? I’ve read his file, he’s a monster,” Iaka said.
“He’s not so bad. He raised me after my parents died. I owe him a lot. I know he’s done plenty of awful things, but he did most of them to other crooks or worse people.”
“That doesn’t make it right.”
“Didn’t say it did.”
“One minute to midnight,” Solomon said. Marcus said a wordless thank you to Solomon. He loved the old man like a father but couldn’t justify some of what he’d done over the years.
Marcus held the data chip beside the reader.
“Five…” Solomon began the countdown. When he hit zero Marcus shoved the chip into the reader. The console didn’t explode which made for a good start. A moment later a hologram of Vlad appeared.
“Hello, my boy. If you’re watching this you must have made it off Mars, well done. Now I suppose you’re eager to find out where I’m sending you. The disk is to be delivered to the Majestic Galaxy casino on New Vegas.” Solomon gasped. Marcus ignored him for the moment. “Your contact is an Asian man sporting a dragon tattoo on his right cheek. He’ll meet you at the bar at one in the morning Earth standard. He’ll approach you and say, ‘Care for a Venetian Blast?’ You reply, ‘I’d prefer a Martian Slam’ then give him the disk. Simple. The meeting is in five days. Be safe, my boy. I’ll say goodbye to Anna for you.”
The hologram vanished. Marcus glanced at his friend and found him almost hyperventilating. “Calm down, Solomon. Everything will be fine.”
“What’s the problem?” Iaka asked.
“I was born on New Vegas,” Solomon said. “And if I go back I’ll likely die there.”
* * *
Adam Wright leaned forward, arms on his desk, and skewered the two agents facing him with a sharp glare. “Tell me again how a junior agent, a smuggler and a computer geek escaped a detachment of thirty experienced agents.”
“They had help, sir. Someone provided them with firepower and our system was hacked allowing them to bypass the lockdown of the airlock. The tracking device was planted on Agent Kazumi as you ordered.”
“Yes, and they’ve already disabled it. It was a backup plan, idiot. They never should have gotten as far as they have.”
“Shut up and get out.”
The two agents fled his office as fast as they could. You couldn’t find good help these days. He slammed his fist on the desk. The whole operation was going to shit. Now he had to update the old man.
He keyed in a code known to few people. His comm unit connected to a secure hyperspace link. A few seconds later a deeply lined face appeared on the screen. Cold, gray eyes sunk deep into the man’s skull glowered at Adam.
“I trust matters have been dealt with, Adam.” The old man’s voice sounded harsh and raspy. He had to be a hundred years old at least.
“No, sir. We’ve had a few setbacks.”
“Explain.” His flat, emotionless tone gave away nothing, only the tightening around his eyes betrayed the old man’s anger.
Adam tried to swallow and found his mouth too dry. “They escaped, sir. Someone helped them get past our people and out of the dome.”
“Where are they now?”
Adam forced himself not to wince. “We have no idea, sir. A homing beacon was placed on Agent Kazumi but it has been deactivated.”
“What are you doing about it?” The old man’s voice stabbed through Adam like a dagger of ice.
“We’ve contacted our people in the field and put out a general alert. We’ve branded them terrorists.”
“Very well, keep me informed.”
“And Adam, I’m very disappointed.” The screen went blank.
Adam switched off the comm unit and tried to breathe. He needed this mess cleaned up, now. The last person the old man had been disappointed with got his throat cut. Adam knew. He’d done the cutting.
I hope you enjoyed Chapter 7. Click here to read Chapter 8
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